These are exciting times for Jeffrey Ball, not only professionally, but in his role as Chairman of Cramlington Rockets, the biggest community rugby league club in north-east England.
With 2015 marking the 15th anniversary of the founding of the club, Cramlington Rockets is very much on the up. The club this year expects player numbers to pass 200 across eight teams, ranging from the under-9s to adults.
It has also recently taken the step of launching its own Community Department, which aims to introduce rugby league to 10,000 children, from the age of six, in the coming year. Jeffrey, an assistant director for wealth manager Brewin Dolphin in Newcastle, working in its charity team, said: “As a comparison, before we moved the club to its current home in Cramlington in 2009, there were no opportunities for local children to play rugby league. “We work really hard to provide a safe environment for kids to learn a new sport, get fit and, most importantly, have fun.”
Jeffrey, who is also Head Coach of the under-14s team at the club, has been involved with the Cramlington Rockets for almost eight years. “A friend who I played touch rugby with asked if I wanted to come down and have a go. From there I was hooked and I became an assistant coach, then a head coach while also joining the club’s committee. I became Chairman in March 2014 when the founder stepped down after 14 years in charge. All the hard work everyone at the club has put in is paying off. Every year we have some new achievements to recognise, which is amazing.”
Last year the first team won the North East Men’s Plate Final – a victory built on the club’s commitment to develop homegrown talent. “Of the 20-man squad, 14 had come through the club’s youth system. It was a very proud moment for the club,” said Jeffrey.
This is just one of the club’s notable achievements. The club boasted North East junior champions across three age groups in 2014; had one player selected for the England Youth team and another for Great Britain and Ireland Students; and one ex-junior has signed a contract with Gateshead Thunder, the local professional rugby league club.
“We work really hard to provide a safe environment for kids to learn a new sport”
Cramlington Rockets’ ‘in-house’ referee won North East Educational Match Official, and he and two other members were nominated for national community rugby awards.
As Chairman, Jeffrey’s role is to develop a culture of success and make Cramlington Rockets recognised as a flagship club for the sport in an area that is dominated by football. It is England’s most northerly junior rugby league club, and the only one in Northumberland.
“We expect people to maintain the highest standards, even when not playing, and treat everyone involved with respect,” says Jeffrey. “We are role models for a lot of young people, so if we can give them some life skills and a good experience, we’re happy.
“We have always been people-focused; we believe results are a natural outcome of giving players a solid foundation to build upon. [Players are encouraged to] keep winning and losing in perspective. It is a process that has proven successful for a number of years,” he adds.
“We are a player’s first experience of rugby league 99% of the time, so we like to ensure it is a good one,” says Jeffrey. “A lot of players stick with us all the way through to adulthood, which is a fantastic achievement.”
Through its community programme, the club will work with schools and community partners to enable children to “start their journey into rugby league”, he says. Promising youngsters can then progress, at the age of 16, to a new academy launched by the club.
“The Community Department is working not just for what happens in the next couple of years, but for the next ten years for those who become a part of the Rockets family.”
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The original version of this article was published in the March 2015 print edition of the Review.