The St George Illawarra Dragons community program 'Score Dragons', now in its sixth year, continues in popularity and is enjoyed by all involved.
The NRL highlighted its significance to community by presenting the Dragons with the 2015 NRL Community Program of the Year.
In 2013, the Dragons met with The Disability Trust in regards to developing an idea where we could include people with disabilities into a local rugby league competition in the Illawarra.
Initial meetings were related to developing ideas around a successful transition and the following issues were identified and met.
- What age competition would be the best fit?
- How we would modify the game to suite all parties?
- Potential barriers for inclusion?
- Support levels during the games?
Over a period of time we worked through all potential issues and decided the best fit would be the Under-13s B competition.
The rules would remain the same as their regular league where it would be a six tackle game played for two 15-minute halves each week.
The only modification we made was the games would be two handed touch and a staff member from The Disability Trust (Illawarra) and St George Illawarra Dragons would be on the field at all times to assist the players.
There is also a local junior rugby league referee who oversees all games.
All clubs were supportive of this initiative and we commenced the games on Saturday, May 31, 2014 against Collegians.
In 2014, the team played six rounds and at each game they have been welcomed with open arms by all clubs, parents and most importantly the players who make the Score Dragons feel included into their game days.
The program then concluded in spectacular fashion with the Score Dragons game the highlight of the day at the Illawarra and Group 7 merged competition international grand finals at WIN Stadium. This game is now a highlight on grand final day.
In 2018, the Score Dragons will play in eight or nine rounds of the Under-14s 2 competition.
This year, communities from Gerringong in the south to Helensburgh in the north will get a Saturday morning experience of a difference.
It's a fantastic opportunity for all concerned and continues to put smiles on the faces of everyone.
The Score Dragons will also play at the Group 7 mod league grand final day and conclude with a guest appearance, playing at the Illawarra/Group 7 merged competition grand finals at WIN Stadium.
The Dragons are extremely proud of this great initiative and the partnership.
The value of the program in building awareness of the importance of inclusiveness has been remarkable.
For the players, having an opportunity to connect with their peers on a weekly basis, playing the game they all share a passion for, is a joy to be involved in.
For parents of the players in the Score Dragons, they for the first time, get to see their child playing in a mainstream sporting competition, is a fantastic outcome for all.
Of course, most importantly, the benefits gained by the mainstream players and families in regards to tolerance, respect and inclusiveness are priceless.
We have been inundated with positive feedback from clubs and families, with the most common questions and statements we hear being:
- How can my son or daughter become involved in this program?
- When can we have the SCORE Dragons back?
- Will the Score Dragons be running again next year?
- That was the best game I have seen in a number of years
- This is fun! I didn’t think it would be like this. (mainstream players)
- My players really enjoyed that experience.
- "They" with reference to the Score participants, really know how to play.
- To play in organised competitions
- To perform live on stage
- To develop their creative side
Their programs also provide meaningful respite for families and carers with the knowledge that their child is in a safe, caring and supportive environment at all times.