St Helens and Wigan clubs come together for World Down Syndrome Day

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Wigan St Pats and Portico Vine for World Down Syndrome Day Credit: Alamy
Wigan St Pats and Portico Vine for World Down Syndrome Day Credit: Alamy

St Helens and Wigan community clubs Portico Vine and Wigan St Pats set aside rivalries to raise awareness of World Down Syndrome Day in their match at the weekend.

All players across both of their respective Under 14s teams wore odd socks and the match lived up to the event too, with a converted try on the final whistle securing Portico a 22-20 victory.

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The day has particular significance for St Pats as a club, as they are cheered on by identical twins with the condition. Abigail and Isobel’s brother Fin plays for St Pats’ Under 14s team.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Their father, Matt, said: “At St Pats, the day means that much more to us due to Abigail and Isobel. The girls are on the sideline for every game cheering him on, they are his biggest fans but more importantly they lift everyone on the sideline.

“The entire Pats family have welcomed them with open arms and they are never shy of a smile or cuddle for any person regardless of team affiliation. Their presence is infectious and they have great friends in the girls under 14s and 16s.

As a family we are completely humbled by the efforts of everyone involved in pulling this together. It’s something that is so close to our hearts and we are simply blown away by it all.

“We are overwhelmed by the gratitude of Portico for not only letting us celebrate at their ground but also having the humility and generosity of offering to join us with our celebration.

“In such a physical sport, with the added spice of the Wigan vs Saints rivalry, for lads of 14 years of age to show empathy and understanding towards the girls and join the celebrations means the world.

“The adopted hashtag for this year is #WithUsNotForUs and these boys certainly epitomised that. There is no better family than the rugby league family.”

World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated worldwide on March 21. 21/3 was chosen as representing a triplicate of the 21st chromosome.

It’s a day that is made deliberately simple to join in with, by simply wearing odd socks and getting people raising awareness of what a person with Down Syndrome can achieve rather than the hurdles they face. Too often people have fear, have anxiety, and naivety towards the condition rather than promoting their successes and achievements.

Odd socks were a feature of Ben Currie’s recent testimonial match between Warrington and Leigh, with the National Down Syndrome Association one of the charities benefiting from his testimonial year.

Other clubs have also participated on World Down Syndrome Day before, with Widnes wearing one home sock and one away sock for their televised Challenge Cup game against West Wales Raiders in 2021.

Learning disability rugby league

In recent years, rugby league has led the way with inclusion and the Learning Disability Super League was born out of one brother’s desire to enable his brother with Down Syndrome to play the game.

Craig Thomason, who works for the Warrington Wolves Foundation, wanted to come up with a way where his younger brother could play the game and was helped by former England international Shaun Briscoe to draft the rules.

Warrington’s Oliver Thomason has become something of a poster boy for LDSL, which gives people who have learning disabilities and autism the chance to play a specially-adapted non-competitive version of rugby league.

It encourages participation and skills development and a festival was held ahead of last year’s World Cup, with 15 teams and nearly 300 players taking part.

Learning Disability Rugby League is managed and supported by Community Integrated Care, which has worked with several rugby league clubs in the community, notably St Helens, Widnes and Wigan.

John Hughes, Director of Partnerships and Communities at CIC, said: “Our relationship with the RFL has changed countless lives and transformed the opportunities that exist for many people, with disabilities, and the support we have had from RLWC2021 has been fantastic. What we offer is unique in world sport and is something the whole of Rugby League can be proud of.”

Last year, Leigh LDRL player Gareth Jones went viral due to a photo of him celebrating scoring a try against Widnes.

The game was played at half-time of the men’s Championship fixture between Widnes and Leigh in front of almost 4,000 fans at the DCBL Stadium.

His mum, Debbie, said: “This has been a life-changing opportunity for Gareth and I’m sure he’ll continue to grow in confidence. It’s offering him the same opportunity in life that any young person of the same age has, and gives him something to look forward to and a real sense of worth.

“It’s been amazing and really brings people together, and we’ve been completely blown away by the impact that photograph has had.”

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