Former Hong Kong skipper Stuart Krohn leads US kids on education mission
The former HK skipper is part of a programme that provides education opportunities for city youngsters
Stuart Krohn was pleased to be back on his "home" turf this weekend.
And while the Sevens is a chance to revive friendships and renew vows over the love, honour and worship of rugby, for Krohn it has a far deeper meaning.
He was captain of the Hong Kong team, starting in 1990 and finishing on a high in 1997 during the first World Cup here, but this visit sees Krohn on a different, albeit still rugby-related, mission.
"I am here with the ICEF, the Inner City Education Foundation," said Krohn, who is the director of the programme, which aims to improve educational opportunities for youngsters from less advantaged communities in southern California. Rugby is one of the tools it uses.
"The programme runs in 14 charter schools in South Los Angeles. In time, we'd like to take on more schools, but we're perfecting the programme in the schools we have, which requires a lot of devotion by both students and teachers," says Krohn.
The purpose behind the programme is to maximise the potential of students in what he describes as "a very urban environment, predominantly African American".
It has many parallels to Hong Kong's Operation Breakthrough initiative, which began in 1996 as a joint venture between Hong Kong Police and the HKRFU.
And just as Breakthrough extends beyond rugby, so does the ICEF.
"Rugby is just one vehicle of the foundation's programme. I used all the knowledge I gained here in Hong Kong to start a rugby programme. We don't just embrace sport, we embrace talent that is both academic and athletic."
Krohn is living proof that teachers are born, not made, and his pride in his charges, who have been billeted in Hong Kong, is visible. "I have 20 with me; 10 boys and 10 girls. These are great kids, they are smart, they are articulate and they are on the way to Ivy League and other top colleges."
Said one of the students, Cameron Griffin, who is headed to Cal Berkeley: "I love the buildings in Hong Kong. This is not my first time overseas with ICEF."
For Leodes Van Buren Jnr, who aspires to attending Princeton and Dartmouth, the lure of travel with ICEF rugby last year took him to New Zealand and Tahiti, and this year to the Vegas Sevens.
"I have been with ICEF since I was in the fourth grade, for seven years now. I first played rugby when I was in year six."
For 14-year old Nia Toliver, who is on her first overseas trip with ICEF, there has been enjoyment in being billeted with a family in Sai Kung with two rugby-playing teenage girls and a Cathay Pacific pilot dad. "They are a really nice family, and I feel very welcome in Hong Kong, we all do."
Jabari Fernandes was equally positive, saying: "The ICEF programme is designed to motivate, that's the priority. I enjoyed visiting the French International School this week, and also playing against the Operation Breakthrough team at the Hong Kong Tens."
Operation Breakthrough has been partly funded by Standard Chartered, and the two teams of youngsters mingled in the company's corporate box at the stadium.
As Krohn looked out at the terrific view over the pitch, he mused: "It is great being back in this amazing stadium, and at the French International school where I used to teach.
"This is the fifth time we've bought ICEF kids to Hong Kong. They've also been to The UK and South Africa. The sky's the limit for these amazing young people."