How Keighley Cougars’ prop Jode Sheriffe is tackling children’s health head-on with Rugger Ratz
PUBLISHED: 00:39 03 May 2013
Jo Haywood reports
Every parent knows that the unofficial description for a group of four-year-olds is ‘a scrum’. But did you know that there’s actually a fun scheme for Yorkshire youngsters to put their natural rugby skills to good use?
Rugger Ratz, a fun and energetic play scheme that introduces two to seven-year-olds to rugby, is the brainchild of former Jamaican international league player Jode Sheriffe and his wife Joleene, a former Halifax union player.
The classes, held in Halifax and Keighley, came about because the couple couldn’t find a suitable rugby-based fun session for their eldest son Tyreese.
‘There were plenty of football classes, but he wanted to play rugby like his dad,’ explains Joleene. ‘He was two at the time and full of energy. When he started tackling the other kids at Baby Ballet and picking up the ball and smashing it down for a try at Soccer Tots, we knew we had to do something.’
And Rugger Ratz was the result. As the first fun fitness scheme of its kind offering rugby-based catching and kicking skills, it was an immediate success.
‘I don’t think people knew quite what to expect at first,’ says Joleene. ‘But Jode is great with the kids – they absolutely love him – and he soon gets them moving and having fun. They’re too busy having a good time to realise how hard they’re working.’
They’re also learning to love rugby – a key sport in West Yorkshire and a particular passion of the Sheriffe family. Jode began playing at Illingworth RLFC when he was just seven, progressing on to Halifax Blue Sox, London Harlequins, Rochdale Hornets, Bradford Bulls, Featherstone Rovers and now Keighley Cougars.
‘I just love it,’ says Jode. ‘I’ve always loved rugby and if I can pass on some of that passion to another generation, I’ll be happy. I’m also obviously thinking about when my playing career is over too. Rugger Ratz is definitely my future.’
Rugby is also close to Joleene’s heart, although her family have always been in the union camp. She joined Halifax Ladies RUFC in her early twenties as a nippy second rower – lulling the opposition into a false sense of security with her slight frame then running rings round them.
Now a busy paramedic, mum-of-two and general manager of Rugger Ratz, she rarely gets a moment to herself. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘I’m not one for sitting around doing nothing,’ she says, still bright eyed and bushy tailed after a night shift. ‘Jode can sit for hours, but I hate having nothing to do. Thankfully, that rarely happens. When I’m not at work or looking after the boys, I’m putting the hours in on Rugger Ratz, making it bigger, better and more accessible.
‘I can see what a difference it’s made to my boys. They’re full of beans and absolutely fighting fit and I just want as many other children as possible to feel the same.’
If the reaction from parents is anything to go by, Joleene and Jode are definitely on the right track. Lucy Gibson, whose son Lucas attends a Sunday morning Rugger Ratz class, says: ‘He absolutely loves his rugby session and always comes out with a smile on his face – and a bag of fruit (an extra perk of the class). Jode manages to keep my son listening and focused. How he does it, I’d love to know.’
Nicola Goward, mum to Kaeden, couldn’t agree more: ‘My son thinks these classes are brilliant and talks about them non-stop. As I work with young children I know how important physical activity is. It needs to be promoted and provided whenever possible, and these classes do all that and more.’
For now, Tyreese and Reubyn – the next generation of Sheriffe players honing their skills – are happy to enjoy the rough and tumble of Rugger Ratz, but what about when they’re ready to play with the big boys. Will they be joining a union or league club?
‘Oh, we don’t mind what they do, do we Jode?’ says Joleene. ‘As long as they’re active and happy, we’ll support them. But if they choose football, they’re on their own.’
For further information about Rugger Ratz, call 07875 233495 or visit ruggerratz.com.