Rugby Is a Vehicle to Success for a Young Philly Athlete
Growing up in Philadelphia, sports are a central aspect of the community culture. Simon Gratz Charter School alum Jordan Mariney was extremely passionate and heavily involved during his high school career. The 19-year-old athlete achieved great success in four sports by the end of high school: football, track and field, basketball and rugby. Rugby was not the popular sport in Jordan’s neighborhood, but he quickly grew to love the game because it instilled in him the values of leadership, determination and respect.
In the summer before his freshman year, Jordan attended a rugby camp in rural Pennsylvania. Nick Hunter, the camp rugby coach, saw a drive and motivation in Jordan that he hadn’t seen in a long time. “Jordan busted his butt to get to that camp. He traveled a long way and I could tell he was very passionate about rugby.” Nick was the Rugby Coach at University of Pennsylvania at the time and he said many of his players came from backgrounds where rugby was available to them. But seeing Jordan play, he could tell Jordan truly valued and respected rugby.
This realization was a major drive for Nick to switch gears. His brother, who taught math at Simon Gratz, told him about the great athletes in the program, including Jordan who was on the school’s football team. Remembering Jordan’s skill from the camp gave Nick the push he needed to make the change. He joined the Simon Gratz sports department and reinstated the rugby program.
“Jordan’s made himself who he is. Rugby is his vehicle for success.” Nick Hunter said. “Jordan has grown tremendously in his skills, attitude and focus.”
Jordan was a star on the field, but he struggled academically. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) at an early age but later on was told he actually had dyslexia. Conchetta Mariney, Jordan’s mom, shared that Jordan felt he couldn’t succeed because of his learning disability and was worried about what life after high school would entail. Thus, he was enrolled in the Independent Education Plan (IEP), which would help Jordan learn the curriculum in a way that catered to his learning style.
Playing rugby, Jordan found support and inclusion. Once the rugby program was established, Jordan joined the team and even recruited several of his football teammates. Jordan was a natural leader and instrumental in bringing rugby to the level of popularity that other sports had at Simon Gratz. When he wasn’t at practice or a game, Jordan was playing rugby in the neighborhood, where curious friends and family members began to learn more about rugby. Members of his family knew nothing about rugby beforehand but seeing Jordan’s passion and love for it convinced them they needed to start learning. “I go to all the games and ask other people what’s going on [on the field]. I even bought a how-to rugby book to learn all the terms and how the game works,” shared Conchetta.
Jordan played Fly Half/Wing. In his junior year, Jordan captained the 7s team, which ranked one of the top teams in the state. Senior year, Jordan was captain of the XVs team and received the Round 4 Philadelphia Player of the Week in April 2019 following his four try performance against Father Judge. The team was runner up in the Delco 7’s. He also helped the team advance to the City Championship Semi-Finals.
“Nick Hunter saw a gift in him that no one else saw,” shared Jordan’s mom. “During his time on the Simon Gratz rugby team, Jordan has grown up leaps and bounds into the man that I know he’s meant to be.”
Nevertheless, Jordan was still worried about life after high school. He was interested in attending college and pursuing rugby, but opportunities for success were limited. There was a great sense of urgency to help Jordan plan his future. A game plan was key to keep Jordan on a trajectory for continued athletic and personal growth, so Nick reached out to a fellow educator and rugby player, Kimani Davis, for help.
Kimani is the Dean of Student Culture at School in the Square in Washington Heights and the Co-Founder of ROOTS Rugby, standing for Rugby Offering Opportunities to Succeed. Kimani has experience working with individuals who struggle with learning disabilities and so Nick Hunter shared Jordan’s story with him. Kimani was eager to help Jordan out in any way he could; he too saw an incredible talent in Jordan and was determined to find an opportunity for Jordan to continue on his path to success.
“When I first met Jordan, I was impressed with his ability to read the game,” shared Kimani. “He’s a great leader because he helps all the kids on his team to be the best players they can be on the field.”
Through ROOTS Rugby, Kimani brought Jordan down to New York to bring him to a professional rugby game. They attended a RUNY game and met the team owner, James Kennedy. Jordan met with the team before the match and also saw the U20 RUNY team play. Through learning more about Jordan through Kimani, James believed Jordan had the potential to be a great rugby player and he took him under his wing. He secured Jordan a spot in the Rugby Americas North Camp in Colorado for four months, where he will train with some of the best young rugby athletes in the country for the rest of this year.
“Jordan is the poster kid for the kind of athlete who has the athletic talent and leadership skills that with the right training and support will be given the opportunity to succeed as a rugby player and individual,” shared Dan Payne, the Director of the Rugby Americas North Camp.
Jordan goes into this next stage of his life with an outpouring support from his friends and family. “Jordan is a gem in the making,” shared Kimani Davis. “The camp in Colorado will be a great opportunity for him to learn as long as he realizes not every day will be a win, but everyday he’ll walk away with more knowledge than he had before, and that will make him a great rugby player.” His family is so excited for this opportunity that came around at the right time, his mother shared. “Before he left, I told Jordan to just go there and be great. Learn all that you can from your peers and mentors.”
“I would have never thought an opportunity would come this fast for me a kid from North Philadelphia, who just loves being a competitor in all sports: basketball, football, track and field and rugby,” says Jordan. “I have been fortunate to have a family and mentors like Nick Hunter and Kimani Davis who have all helped me get to this moment and for that, I’m grateful.”
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