WATTS, Calif. — The Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, and Jordan Downs Housing projects are all within less than a five-mile radius.
Anyone familiar with the area will tell you they might as well be hours apart. If you reside in one, you don’t go inside the other. Gang lines divide each of the housing projects.
Bloods on one side. Crips on the other.
Those lines, albeit momentarily, were dissolved Saturday when Rico Cabrera Jr., Founder and Executive Director of Rico’s Get Better Foundation hosted a back-to-cchool clinic for kids inside the Imperial Courts. Kids from the Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs were on hand as well.
The participants were put through games and drills in rugby, soccer, and basketball.
For Cabrera Jr., it served as an opportunity to reach kids in a seldom reached area.
“(I want the kids to learn) that there is life beyond the projects and the housing development,” Cabrera Jr. said. “That’s a big deal. The folks I’ve been able to meet have really asked me to come back and bring as much positive energy, diversity, and education in a lot of different ways to the community.
“You can use sports to open doors.”
One sport that encompasses all of which Cabrera Jr. is trying to get across at the clinic is rugby. It’s a sport that isn’t played or talked about much, if at all, in the inner cities but Cabrera Jr. invited Dallen Stanford and his team from Play Rugby USA to be involved.
Bringing rugby to the inner city served as yet another chance for Stanford to reach rugby first timers.
Stanford is the Play Rugby USA Los Angeles Program Manager and in the program’s three years in the city they’ve developed a relationship with the Los Angeles Unified School District where rugby can be found in 75 of the district’s elementary and middle schools.
In the last year, 1,500 students played the game for the first time through Play Rugby LA. They’re trying to reach 2,000 first timers this year and were able to add to that total at Cabrera Jr.’s clinic on Saturday.
The concept of throwing a ball that looks remotely similar to a football backwards was new and different for those that attended the clinic but they welcomed rugby with open arms.
“The instructors were like ‘It’s not like football,'” 14-year old rugby first timer and Jordan high school freshman, Rian Grothe explained. “I was like ‘OK. Why is the ball shaped like a football?’
“You can pass it backwards only,” Grothe was told.
“OK,” the 14-year-old said. “I can get used to that.”
In Grothe’s case, the sport was an instant hit.
“It’s, kind of, better than football, a little bit,” he said.
A new sport. A new opportunity. Perhaps, a new door opened through the Back-to-School Clinic.
“That’s what I really love doing is bringing inspiration to kids in need,” Cabrera Jr. said.