For Grace McLean and her team at the Hay Cutters Rugby Club, rugby is more than just a weekend sport. They all travel at least 10,000km every rugby season, often leaving their homes on a Saturday to make games on Sunday due to the distances.
The rugby club was founded by some dedicated rugby fanatics in the heartland of AFL country. It was initially just one team of senior male players travelling all over NSW to have a run on the paddock and celebration with the opposition at the end of the game.
It’s a club that has forged lifelong friendships, quite a few marriages and a whole lot of children. Faced with a growing band of restless junior rugby fans, they decided to start the Hay Whipper Snippers in 2015 and Grace’s rugby career began the following year as part of the mighty Under 8’s.
Grace is one of the successful recipients of the Edstart Junior Rugby Scholarship Program, which was launched earlier this year to help support the game at the grassroots level and develop future rugby talent in NSW. As part of the scholarship, Edstart will fund the registration cost for participating in the 2020 season as well as equipment costs such as boots and mouth guard.
Grace’s mother, Alison McLean, says the club has a giant bag of hand-me-down boots that they take to the beginning of each season and players find a pair to wear for the season.
“Grace has never had a new pair of footy boots. Her excitement at getting her own pair thanks to the Edstart scholarship is palpable,” McLean said.
“Rugby has been an incredibly important part of our family’s ability to deal with the drought. It is something we all look forward to and is a great excuse for us all to get together and forget about dust, drought and stress for a while.”
The scholarship program has had a huge response with hundreds of applications from across the state.
Edstart CEO, Jack Stevens explains that the process of narrowing down such a large applicant pool has been challenging with so many worthy applicants.
“We’ve assessed applications based on a range of criteria, from recognising the child’s passion and achievements in rugby, supporting kids where rugby is beneficial for their development and wellbeing, to assisting families that have been through difficult situations including bushfires, drought and domestic violence,” Stevens said.
“Edstart is glad to be able to support these families and we look forward to tracking their progress during the 2020 season.”
Players from Camden Junior Rugby, Clovelly Eagles, Coonabarabran Junior Rugby Club, Dubbo Junior Rugby, Forbes Junior Rugby, Hamilton Hawks, Hay Cutters Junior Rugby Club, Hunters Hill Junior Rugby, Lindfield Junior Rugby, Maitland Junior Rugby, Merewether Carlton Junior Rugby Club, Oakhill College Rugby, Ourimbah Junior Rugby Club, Port Macquarie Pirates, Quirindi Junior Rugby Club, Shoalhaven Junior Rugby, Southern Beaches Junior Rugby Club, Wanderers Juniors Rugby Football Club, Woy Woy Lions have been successful in this year’s scholarship.