Coach Matt Persanis and Tom Kleinberger, co-founders of Pelham Youth Rugby, will be given the Pelham Recreation Commission’s annual Dr. John L. Marshall Award for volunteer service.
The award will be presented June 8 at 7 pm at the Recreation Commission meeting in the Daronco Townhouse. Coach Persanis would love it if as many of the kids as possible could be there. Parents are invited too. The award crowns a year in which the club’s high school team was designated as the varsity program for Pelham Memorial High School.
“Ever since that first year when Tom, Christian Mayo and I got this thing going, it has always been the kids who have provided me with the most enjoyment,” said Coach Persanis. “I can still remember some of the kids who were there from the beginning as little guys—Morgan, Kees, Matt B., North, Cian and Luke. They started as fourth and fifth graders and have stuck with it (and me!) for all those years and have developed into fantastic rugby players and fine young men.”
“It’s a strange relationship I have with some of these kids,” he continued. “In one way, I think of them as my adopted kids; in another, they are now players on a varsity team I coach. Whatever the relationship, it’s been the most fun I have had in my 30 years of rugby. It is also the part of rugby I am most proud. Not just of the size of the program—over 100 now—but the way the kids have developed and grown and continue to grow as people. I am also very happy to see the next wave of kids starting to come through. We have a sizable little group (elementary), a big group of u12 and a u14 group that has some real players on it.”
Said one nominating letter to the Recreation Commission, Coach Persanis “has worked tirelessly off the field to expand the opportunities for Pelham children to participate in rugby. He partnered with Play Rugby USA to bring top coaches to the program, started and expanded tackle leagues that include teams in three states, brought rugby mini-classes to Pelham elementary schools and created off-season conditioning programs for the kids. The flag teams have won numerous trophies at the huge NYC Cup Tournament and the middle school tackle team twice topped its league.
“Matt is at every Monday and Friday practice in the fall and spring coaching from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm, obviously taking off from work to do this. He is at every Sunday game, sometimes driving miles from flag to tackle. The coaching the children receive is one of the most impressive aspects of the program. Matt, who played at the highest level, makes a connection with the kids that is amazing and very special. His focus on sportsmanship, a hallmark of rugby, teaches them life lessons.”