Two students from a headline grabbing American high school rugby team arrive here tomorrow to spend six weeks playing the game for Auckland's Avondale College.
Salim Lancaster and Alex Pettiford are from Washington DC's Hyde Leadership Public Charter School which has been on front pages of American newspapers and in sports channels as the first US all-African-American high school rugby team.
Hyde's "The Pride" rugby side has developed a close relationship with the New Zealand Embassy in Washington which holds the annual Ambassador Shield match on the school grounds, raising US$10,000-$15,000.
Tal Bayer, Hyde-DC's head rugby coach and director of development, told Stuff.co.nz that Salim and Alex are "awesome rugby athletes and honour roll students...
"They were chosen unanimously by their teammates and coaches for this scholarship programme."
In addition to attending classes, the students will have opportunities to train with the Auckland Rugby Academy and will see several professional and college teams play rugby.
During their leisure time, their host families plan to take the teens skiing and deep-sea fishing.
Hyde-DC is an inner city school dedicated to the development of character in students and families and Salim and Alex exhibit the best of the Hyde philosophy.
"Both young gentlemen consistently display excellence in both attitude and effort," Bayer said.
Salim Lancaster, who plays scrumhalf for the Hyde-DC varsity rugby team, says he likes rugby "because it is different from all the other sports and every player has a purpose."
Salim was one of two players selected last summer to travel to California for a week-long rugby camp.
He commutes over an hour each day from his home to attend Hyde-DC and "exhibits a quiet confidence and maturity that is unusual for someone his age," said Bayer.
Alex Pettiford, a flanker, says he "always bring intensity to whatever I do, whether carrying water or running the ball."
He's the first to arrive and the last to leave every practice.
His teammates voted him Most Valuable Player this year even though an injury prevented him from playing most of the season.
"His injury kept him off the field, but it never stopped him from learning the game, our system and some of the technical aspects of what we do," said Bayer.
His trip to New Zealand will be Alex's first time on an aeroplane.
The scholarships are by the Auckland University of Technology and the New Zealand Embassy in Washington.
The New Zealand Hyde School Scholarship Programme is the latest honour accorded to the nation's first inner city all-African American high school rugby team.
It's not unusual for the "Pride of Hyde" rugby team to attract positive attention, on and off the playing field.
The Sunday Star Times in New Zealand ran a lengthy feature on the side earlier this year and they have previously featured on Stuff.co.nz.
FoxSportsNetwork produced a half-hour documentary, Hyde Rugby: A New World, which aired during Black History Month.
Narrated by Terrence Howard, the show chronicled "the extraordinary efforts and determination of students at a D.C. charter school."
The New York Times featured a story in November 2008 about Hyde-DC's team, entitled The Unlikely Scrum.
Reporter Will Bardenwerper described how rugby is "breaking down barriers and opening up new possibilities for this all-African-American high school team."
Hyde-DC Alumni P.J. Komongnan, a top-notch rugby player who's played for the national team, was profiled by the Associated Press in December 2008 during his trip to the UK to promote Ultimate Rugby Sevens.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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