JUNIOR rugby union is thriving in Keighley and South Craven if the West District of the Yorkshire RFU Volunteer awards are anything to go by.

At the luncheon at Bradford & Bingley Sports Club, Keighley RUFC junior chair Steve Welch was named junior rugby volunteer of the year and South Craven schoolteacher Richard Hughes won the Spirit of Rugby award.

Welch, who has now completed a season and a half in the post, first got involved chiefly via his son Keir but also via his daughter Phoebe playing in the juniors at Rose Cottage and has been involved in that section for 16 years as parent, coach or chairman.

Welch, who has also played for the second XV, said of the junior section: “The main thing was to get a structure in place through the age groups with the right people involved in key positions at each section whether they are administrators or coaches, and we have been really lucky at Keighley in that regard.

“We have teams at five years old and six years old, which is teaching them the basics and at sevens and eights with tag rugby involving skills and non-contact games, and we introduce tackling at under-nines.

“Then we have under-10s and 11s, under-13s, where more structure is introduced and we can rotate players, but we didn’t have an under-15s last season due to lack of numbers.

“Kenny Dyson is in charge of the under-16s, where we bring down six or seven guest coaches during the season on various aspects, and then we have the colts (under-17s), 14 of whom played senior rugby at Keighley in the season just finished.

“Five or six of those have played for the first XV, notably Adam Kemp in the second row or back row.

“Overall junior numbers have increased from 135 to 160 and we are engaging with local schools, such as South Craven, Parkside and Oakbank, plus primary schools, where we have a project to coach years five and six.”

Hughes, who is head of PE at South Craven School, where he has taught for eight years, said: “I have played rugby for many years and really enjoyed it and it is really important to get as many of our students involved in rugby because it is a great sport and they will have a great experience.

“The seven core RFU values that we promote in rugby really set the kids up for a great start in life as well as sport, and we work very closely with Keighley RUFC, where the support we receive is invaluable.

“We had rugby at the school when I arrived, thanks to my predecessors, and it was my job to build on that, playing as many fixtures as we can and embedding it into the curriculum so that all of the kids get an opportunity to play it.

“We try and run teams throughout the school, and definitely at Key Stage Three and Key Stage Four, which is under-12s to under-16s, and if we can we will get a senior squad out as well.

“We had lads in representative rugby for Yorkshire last season and this, where Dylan Hanson has been doing really well.

“He has been jumping around in terms of positions but has been in the forwards recently.

“We play a lot in the White Rose Festivals, which is fantastic, and it is just a matter of getting fixtures against other schools, such as Ermysted’s, Skipton Academy, Settle, Parkside, Bingley Grammar and Beckfoot, and we have even had sessions at Giggleswick.”