FREEPORT, Grand Bahama — From mountain climbing to barber shop singing – Mark Rawlings is a sportsman of many parts.  And now he is adding the role of ambassador to his repertoire.

The newly-appointed youth development officer at Freeport Rugby Football Club (pictured) is heading out into the schools with a mission to win young people and their physical education teachers over to a sport relatively little known on Grand Bahama but played by millions worldwide.

The 22-year-old Brit may be young but he has plenty to offer youngsters interested in taking up the sport.  He is a player himself, holds several coaching certificates and is a qualified referee.  He also has experience this side of the Atlantic having spent months coaching children in Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.

He wants to get more young Bahamians involved at the Settlers Way-based rugby club.  Contrary to many people’s belief the club is not just for foreigners and already most of the first team is Grand Bahama born and bred.   Mark wants to get the next generation of players started early.

He has already been to Bishop Michael Eldon High School and other schools will quickly follow.  Phase One of his “Start Rugby, Grand Bahama” campaign offers six weeks coaching for each school which takes part followed by special tag rugby tournament for senior kids in a month or two’s time in which youngsters will be able to show what they have learned in competition with other schools.

Each of those taking part will be invited for extra training at the rugby club on Monday and Friday evenings.

Once Phase One is complete he will turn his attention to the under-15 age group with similar coaching programmes and a competitive event at the end.

“This programme looks to develop teamwork, leadership and discipline in a fun and enjoyable setting,” said rugby club president Rob Speller.  “It will also improve the kids’ motor skills, such as passing, catching, and reading the game, all of which are transferable to and from many other popular sports.

“We want to involve parents and teachers in the organisation and coaching.  They will find it fun and it will help sustain the sport on the island for the foreseeable future.”

The Freeport club’s successes attract much less attention than other sports on the island but are outstanding nonetheless.  It won the 2008 Bahamas Cup as well as the 2008 Bahamas Championships.  Its facilities are the best on the island with extensive match and practice pitches and a clubhouse which houses changing rooms and showers as well as a social centre.  It regularly hosts visiting teams from the US.

“It’s been great to get started,” said Mark.  “I know the kids who take part will enjoy it and they will be getting coaching to the highest standards set by the International Rugby Board.  It is a contact sport and it is very competitive as anyone who comes to the club on Saturday to watch us play Kellogg’s Business School from the US will see.  But it also teaches anger management and leads to strong character growth generally.”

Mark has taken time off from the UK’s world famous Loughborough University where he is taking politics with media to help out in Freeport.  But the university is chiefly known for the large number of top class sports players and coaches who have begun their first class careers there.

He is used to pioneering projects.  In fact his coaching stint in Trinidad and Tobago was the first of its kind in that country and required a diplomatic approach as well as a lot of enthusiasm.

He ended up coaching primary as well as high school children, some of them disabled, as well more challenging students.  “One of the more rewarding and unique experiences was coaching in a young offenders institute in Trinidad where many of the kids had not played the sport before,” Mark added.