Inspiring program, documentary making waves around the world

BOULDER, Colo. – The Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools in Los Angeles, California, prepare students to attend the top 100 colleges in the United States. Stuart Krohn, a founding teacher at one of the schools, began the ICEF Rugby program in 2003. Ten years later, a documentary following his rugby teams in New Zealand is recognizing Krohn’s effort and the impact rugby has had on his students’ lives.

In his ninth international trip with ICEF Rugby, Krohn took one boy’s team and one girl’s team to New Zealand in 2012 to play rugby and immerse them in the Maori culture. New Zealand director James Brown and his crew followed Krohn and his students from the moment they landed to the moment they left, capturing multiple inspiring stories within the overall documentary, entitled “Red, White, Black & Blue.”

“The film is about cultural exchange, coming of age, hopes and dreams, and broadening the horizons of a group of teenagers – all through the vehicle of a rugby program,” Brown said.

Despite the fact Brown was not necessarily rugby fan, Krohn was assured of his passion with the film and program.

“James was able to piece together over 100 hours of footage into an amazing film,” Krohn, who also acted as producer on the film, added. “It’s taking off not just because of rugby, but because it has universal appeal.”

Currently making the film festival rounds, Brown and Krohn’s film has already won the Best Documentary award at the Idyllwild CinemaFest in January, with hopes of wider distribution in the near future.

“The goal in not a financial goal,” Krohn said. “It’s a maximum distribution goal. We want everyone to have access to it on television, but it would be nice if it could have a theatrical run and then television so it would get better exposure.

“I want people to see it and know about it and to share it.”

A rugby player himself, Krohn was an All-American at the University of California, Santa Barbara before playing professionally in France, South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong during a 13-year career. In 1998, Krohn left Hong Kong to take the head coaching job at Dartmouth, where he instructed current Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Alexander Magleby.

“It was always the plan to start an urban rugby program,” the former Hong Kong captain said. “Now it’s eleven years later and we’re going on our tenth international trip this year to China.”

Though most age-grade rugby players would jump at the opportunity to travel the world, the ICEF Rugby program does much more than offer sightseeing tours.

“Our whole program is based on the school’s mission, which is preparing our kids to go to college,” Krohn said. “The rugby program tailors perfectly into that. It develops character and opens their eyes to different possibilities, looking outside the box.”

Krohn’s students were not the only ones looking outside the box in New Zealand. A native Kiwi, Brown was not big into rugby before being approached for the film.

“It was interesting for Brown and his staff, shooting this documentary, to learn more about rugby and the Maori culture,” Krohn said. “They learned a lot about their own country.”

While in New Zealand, a news channel caught up with the ICEF kids and Krohn for a current affairs piece on television. Unfortunately, some of the media’s perceptions of South Los Angeles are not so current.

“They used footage from the L.A. Riots to depict the students’ home life,” Brown said. “As you will have calculated, the Riots took place before any students were born. After hearing Stuart Krohn talk about the students and meeting them when they arrived in New Zealand, it was clear to me these students did not fall into a stereotypical ‘street kids’ category.

“The students I saw were well-spoken, educated, athletic young individuals who had been fortunate to spend their schooling in a positive and supporting environment.”

The positive environment within ICEF is also creating bridges in the South Los Angeles community.

“Everyone lives in their own domain,” Krohn said. “That’s another point of the film. L.A. is a very segmented place, although they all drive around the freeways and use their same routes to work and their communities.

“Rugby has opened that up in L.A. and has been a great force in mixing different communities.”

There are many reasons why his ICEF students choose rugby, Krohn said, though some do still play football in the offseason. He and Brown argue rugby offers more than an athletic option.

“The don’t get locked into all of the associated baggage of mainstream sports,” Brown said, “like following predictable paths to stereotyped outcomes. They are not scraping through academically in order for their sporting talents to be used by universities; they are well-rounded people who will attract the universities because of their excellence in academics, sport and leadership.”

“They love it,” Krohn said. “For some of the kids it’s just a high school thing, which is great – it’s a character builder and it will expose them to new things.

“Everyone eats together after the game. They don’t do that in other sports when they play. Everybody’s imbued with the unique character of rugby, the camaraderie of the sport.”

The film delves deep into a few of the students’ lives, as well. One girl’s siblings were victims of gang violence, while a boy’s father was in prison, to name a few examples. Brown said the information was volunteered by the young ambassadors, sometimes in a “cathartic way.” Some of the stories told are sad and can be seen as motivation for the young rugby players to stay away from gangs and drugs, but others are of success.

During the trip, one of the girls (her class’ Valedictorian) received her acceptance letter from Brown University, while a few members of the boy’s team were offered stays at Christchurch, a university town with a proud rugby tradition amidst the ruins of a devastating earthquake.

“We have a boy in high school now,” Krohn said. “Rugby was a big stretch, but he got into Dartmouth. He was our third kid accepted into Dartmouth. Rugby helped develop his character and show the school he had a more broad approach.”

The success stories were not just off of the field, either. To close out the trip, the boys were entered into a national rugby tournament hosted by a boys and girls school in Christchurch. They won.

“Winning has a totally different meaning to us now,” Krohn said, referring to the effect his program has had in his students’ academic careers. “But we do end up winning most of our games.”

The ICEF Rugby program’s trip to China in March to compete in the international youth tournament will coincide with the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, which the teams will attend. As for the film, “Red, White, Black & Blue” has just been accepted into the Bootleg Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the same weekend as the Hong Kong Sevens. It will also be shown at the Cannes International PanAfrican Film Festival in late April, the All Work African Documentary Film Festival at the University of West Indies in Jamaica from April 25-28, and at the University of the Western Cape in Capetown, South Africa, in July. Krohn also said he has recently spoken to parties interested in distributing the film.

Click the pictures below to view the ICEF Rugby gallery.

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Donation information for the ICEF Rugby program is available on its website.

You can follow ICEF Rugby on Twitter: @ICEFRugby.

Watch the trailer below for "Red, White, Black & Blue"