Best Youth Sports League

Oakland Warthogs Rugby

At a moment when many public schools are slashing sports programs, when childhood obesity is on the rise, when Oakland's gang violence shows no signs of slowing, and when college admission and completion rates for young men of color continue to lag, Oakland Warthogs Rugby is more than a sports league and more than a community service — it's a lifeline. The eight-year-old nonprofit rugby program provides an antidote to crime and violence for its players, many of whom live in poverty and the vast majority of whom are black or Latino; teaches discipline, teamwork, responsibility, and athleticism; and even provides food at practices, knowing that many of its participants don't have enough to eat at home. But founder Ryan Burke has made a serious commitment to not just athletics but academics: Everyone on the team is required to maintain a 2.0 average, and players are strongly encouraged to go to college. During the 2013 season, Warthog instituted a pre-practice tutoring program, paid for several players to visit various universities, and sent many of its players to college-admissions seminars. And it paid off: All of the Warthogs' graduating seniors will be headed to two- or four-year colleges in the fall, many with hefty scholarships; another alum will be representing the US in the 2013 Junior Rugby World Championships.

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