Who would put Las Vegas, rugby and Honduras together?
The answer is those who play the game in the town of Las Vegas in Honduras’ north-east, far away from the glitz, glamour and lights of the Nevada city that hosted the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series from 2010 to 2019.
Few would actually associate rugby and Honduras, but this member of Sudamérica Rugby has been playing rugby for a few seasons now, since 2012, in fact. And although the COVID-19 pandemic has become part of daily life in the country and the world, it's a sport that has continued to make real strides in the country.
A mining town, the new love for rugby is changing ways in Las Vegas, where poverty and crime are rife.
The time spent every day, 750 metres underground, has helped miner Wilson Sabillón think of new ways to make his town a better place for its youth.
Having learnt the game at the mine's rugby team, Maddogz, started by expats and still going strong, he decided that it would be a good sport for the youth in his area too.
Sabillón then created a rugby project named "Mineros El Mochito", in reference to the mine he works in. In between extracting lead, zinc and silver, Sabillón put the first blocks of an oval revolution in the town of 36,000. With a single rugby ball in hand, he approached a local school and it was an instant jackpot, so much that he soon needed more equipment to cope with the demand.
A busy schedule
“I accommodate my schedules depending on training sessions with the kids. I might start at 4am or at noon, depending on what rugby activity I have that day,” says Sabillón of his daily routine from Mondays to Saturdays.
Rugby came to his life as an adult player, but teaching and coaching was something new to him so he had to teach himself: “how to teach through internet tutorials, learning how to use the little resources we had," Sabillón remembers. “A couple of months after we started, the Honduras Rugby Federation sent us five balls, cones and singlets that were much appreciated.”
Having started last year, by the time the world stood still, Las Vegas had three U20 teams – two female and one male.
“We knew that kids were falling into bad habits – delinquency, alcoholism, drugs. That pushed me to go to a school and offer a sport they had never heard of. The first day we had 75 kids wanting to see what we were talking about.
“A few kids in difficult situations were given new hope and now fit perfectly with rugby. It is a catalyst for a daily reality, sometimes very complex,” Sabillón says with joy.
After gaining the support of the national federation and his employers, Sabillón sought the help of the local municipality, which, after first understanding what rugby was, supported the project, so much that what started as Sabillón's project is now a programme.
“Seeing kids from 14 to 21 focused on sport and enjoying themselves in the healthy environment of an almost unknown sport is very important for us,” says Bany Rivas, Head of Culture, Communications and Transparency at the local municipality.
“We now work with other schools with the aim of helping more and more boys and girls to be better for their families and the community".
Héctor Godoy, Chairman of the Federación Hondureña, sees the support of municipalities as key to the growth of the game in his country. “The seed is being sowed in rural areas, where the local support is essential,” he says.
Now reaching five local schools in Las Vegas, Sabillón has seen quick change in his town and dreams of bigger goals; he believes that it can generate a nationwide impact.
“If we can go through the right channels and reach the national education authorities, it can be great. But I don’t want to lose focus with what we are doing locally.
“We are all fully focused on the development of rugby in our country. With more support, we can become leaders in Central America,” he concludes.