Tom Wiggins, Honorary Secretary of Ballymena RFC, welcomed the award:
“It is fantastic to get this award, and it is a great acknowledgement of the work being put in by our coaches and the effort of the players. We’ve worked hard over the past ten years or so to build up our coaching and community rugby setup, which has resulted in great numbers across our U14s, U16s and U18s.
“At Ballymena we have focused on building our coaching and support networks for the kids to ensure there are plenty of qualified coaches available and there are good facilities for them to come along and enjoy rugby in a quality environment. As a coach of youth rugby, I feel it is as much about making sure the kids enjoy themselves so they can easily make the transition between the various age-grade teams, then hopefully into adult rugby. In that respect,youth rugby is absolutely critical to the future of all clubs in Ulster.”
And that investment in the youth setup is paying dividends at adult level for Ballymena too, according to Tom:
“This year, we have been able to start a fifths adult team again due to the number of players we are bringing through from U18 into senior rugby. As well as that, we have a thriving mini section, we have female rugby and also the Bears disability team, so we are able to provide opportunities for anyone in our community to play rugby at whatever level suits them.”
On the pitch, Ballymena’s youth teams have enjoyed considerable success recently with the U14s winning the Ulster Carpets Cup final at Kingspan Stadium last year, and this year’s U14s and U18s in line to win their regional leagues. However, Tom is quick to point out there are other barometers for measuring success.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some success on the field at youth level in recent years, but equally as important is that we are able to provide opportunities for so many people who can join us and feel a part of the club, and hopefully they will be the future for Ballymena.”
Pictured presenting Ballymena RFC with a bag of Ulster Carpets rugby balls is Ulster Rugby Regional Development Officer Shaun Bloomfield. The club will also receive 30 tickets to an Ulster Rugby game at Kingspan Stadium.