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Eastern rugby hosts first clinic for Special Olympics Willimantic

Published on August 30, 2023

Eastern rugby hosts first clinic for Special Olympics Willimantic

The men's rugby team and local Special Olympics athletes gather for a group photo. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

Special Olympian Ben Vertefeuille runs his way through the crowded rugby field during a unified scrimmage Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

A participant in action during the clinic's skills practice. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

Participants in action during the clinic's skills practice. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

Special Olympians Margo Medley and Elliot Shannon take the rugby ball from Coach Ray Aramini and Eastern Connecticut rugby player Alex Mitchell. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

All participants were presented with personalized medals at the end of the clinic. (Photo courtesy of Bella Johnson)

Eastern Connecticut State University’s men’s rugby team hosted Special Olympics Willimantic for its inaugural Special Olympics rugby clinic on Aug. 12 at the Mansfield Sports Complex. 

The main event of the day was skills practice, where the rugby team split into smaller groups to provide specialized instruction on several aspects of rugby to Special Olympics athletes. 

“The rugby players were incredibly respectful, helpful and engaging,” said Sarah Desso, a local coordinator for Special Olympics Willimantic.  

At the end of the day, each athlete was presented with a personalized medal commemorating their presence at the clinic. All participants then gathered for pizza and socialization to cap off the event. 

“We cannot express enough how grateful we were for the time, care, thought and commitment the rugby team gave,” said Desso.  

Reflecting on the clinic, the team's public relations officer, Devin Rodriguez, was impressed by “how effectively rugby can unite a community.” 

The rugby team has a record of service to and engagement with the community, being one of the team's core values. Among its many activities, for instance, the club hosts the Olga Ezis Plunge for Hunger at Lauter Park in Willimantic to benefit the Covenant Soup Kitchen. 

What inspires the team to serve the local community? “We are a collective of men who firmly believe that giving back and being responsible citizens is paramount,” said Rodriguez.  

“Coach Ray Aramini has instilled in us the understanding that rugby should never take precedence over our roles as dutiful sons, caring brothers, diligent students and responsible citizens.” 

This inaugural clinic marks the latest in Eastern rugby’s rich history of making a positive impact on the community of Willimantic. 

Written by Noel Teter