Last weekend the Operation Breakthrough rugby section celebrated its 10th anniversary with a match between the current group of Under 19s and a team comprising players who have graduated from the programme since 2003.
Watching the graduates back together, proudly wearing a set of "Breakthrough Old Boys" shirts they'd had specially made for the occasion, it was amazing to reflect how much they have collectively gone on to achieve both on and off the pitch; Breakthrough boys have played at all national representative level from Under 16 up to Hong Kong "A" level, with only an elusive full national cap still eluding them, although with a couple of exciting prospects currently in the national academy, including one who played in the gold medal winning Asian Youth Games teams, the first international may not be too far away.
Domestically Breakthrough boys have gone on to play Premiership rugby at Valley and Hong Kong Scottish, and were instrumental in setting up the TSW Pandas club who are currently playing in Premiership A. There are also large numbers playing alongside Police officers in the Police Rugby Club, and last season one of the original Breakthrough participants became the first non-police officer to captain the club 1st team. Many of the boys have also gone through the Union's coaching courses and you'll now find them helping run school and mini teams all over the New Territories. The winning teams at last week's Hong Kong School Sports Federation Sevens tournament at both "A" and "B" Grade contained a number of current Breakthrough players and both schools are coached by "old boys".
Also worthy of note is the joint initiative between the HKRFU and Breakthrough which over the past 3 years has seen Breakthrough coaches introduce rugby to the Tuen Mun Boys Home, and then encourage the participants to join the Breakthrough programme once they are released - this was recognised with the Community Programme of the Year Award at the 2012 International Rugby Expo.
Off the pitch a remarkable 5 of these "at risk" youngsters have gone on to become Police Constables (7 in total from all Breakthrough sports), 4 are working in various roles at the HKRFU, several have completed tertiary education courses including one who is about to complete a teaching training degree, and there are even 2 training jockeys and 1 who has taken the first tentative steps towards a professional boxing career!
The success of this programme owes much to the generosity of long term sponsors Standard Chartered Bank and the inspirational figures who have been involved over the past decade, coaches like Rambo Leung, Simon Mann, Brian Higgins and Stuart Gunn, police volunteers such as Steve Tarrant, Brian Yung and Rod Colson, and the invaluable social workers and police Community Relations Officers, but ultimately it's the boys and girls themselves who deserve the plaudits for their own achievements. If Breakthrough rugby has proved one thing since 2003 it's simply this - youngsters aren't the problem, they're the solution to society's problems; given the opportunity and the support they will go on to achieve remarkable things and make a positive contribution to our community.
You can find out more about Operation Breakthrough at www.breakthrough.hk