The new documentary Red, White, Black and Blue Odyssey details the tireless efforts of a rugby coach in South Los Angeles. His name is Stuart Krohn, a former professional rugby player, and he’s determined to bring the game to many, many high school athletes. His success has been hard won and influential on the lives of these young competitors. He even takes them to international rugby tournaments, all the while preaching his philosophy and focusing on their overcoming of obstacles.
Here’s what Krohn’s organization, ICEF Rugby, states as its mission: “ICEF Rugby is a leadership, team building and character development program. We align ourselves with the ICEF Mission of getting our students to attend and compete [at] the top 100 colleges and universities in the nation. We use rugby as the vehicle to provide skills to ensure this mission can become a reality.” ICEF stands for Inner City Education Foundation.
The new film, directed by James Brown, is now available on VOD and iTunes. Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Krohn about his time in Los Angeles. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
What was your original inspiration for starting the ICEF Rugby Program in South Los Angeles?
I had a vision when I was getting near the end of my playing career in Hong Kong of starting an Inner City-based rugby program in the U.S. I wanted to come to a large urban area that had warm weather most of the year. Los Angeles came to mind. I coached Dartmouth College for a year and was offered a job coaching Santa Monica men’s rugby. One of their members was opening a new charter school in 1999 in South LA called View Park. When I interviewed there, I knew that there was an opportunity to start a rugby program in South LA. In 2003, when the students were up to eighth grade, we started the program with a small grant from the LA84 Foundation. We’ve been growing ever since.
How much success has the program seen since its inception?
We’ve had a lot of success. The mission of ICEF Public Schools is to prepare our students to get into and succeed at the top colleges in the U.S. ICEF rugby alumni attend or have graduated from Dartmouth (three), Brown, MIT, Duke, MIT, Cornell, Bowdoin, Cal Berkeley, Bryn Mawr, Penn, UCLA, UCSD, UCSC, Lindenwood University and many, many others. We just had an alumni day with over 50 rugby alumni in attendance. They and their families stay connected to the program.
We take an annual tour every year overseas with our top performing high school players, both female and male. We’ve been to China, Japan, Tahiti, Fiji, Brazil, South Africa, England and France. We’ve sent six students on their own to places to play and study independently in New Zealand, China and England. We introduce flag rugby to thousands of ICEF students in grades K-12 every single year. We’re building leaders every single year.
That is how we define success. We’ve won games and tournaments, and we’ve lost games. But we define ‘winning’ as sticking together, as creating strong, independent and socially mature young adults ready to take on the world.
Were you immediately open to the idea of a documentary? Did you like having the film crew around?
There were different documentarians wanting to make a movie about our program, and we worked with some of them. So we were getting used to the idea of a film being made. When we met the director and editor, James Brown, and his small team in New Zealand, we were immediately put at ease. James is a great man, and the students were immediately put at ease by him and his crew.
Many Americans are unfamiliar with rugby, perhaps not knowing the rules, players’ names and teams around the world. What would you tell a young man or woman thinking about playing rugby for the first time or becoming a rugby fan?
Rugby is an extreme full-contact sport. You have to love to run with a ball and love contact. You have to love being on a team. Rugby is an international game, and there is a culture that we are all family. It’s a very close rugby community. Once you feel that, then people tend to stay connected with the sport.
When did you first get into rugby?
I discovered rugby when I was a freshman at the University of Colorado in 1980, but I saw rugby once on TV in the ’60s on a Canadian black and white station. The entire stadium was singing while the men played this crazy game running and tackling without any padding. To me, it looked like the funnest thing in the world to do. And it is!
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Red, White, Black and Blue Odyssey is now available on VOD and iTunes. Click here for more information.