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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

USRF Announces 2017 Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship Recipients

Press Release

Please join the United States Rugby Foundation in wishing the best of luck and safe travels to this year’s Graham Downes Scholarship recipients, Ian Slack and Jackson Baere. They both exemplify outstanding skills, leadership, character on and off the pitch, and a true dedication to the sport. They join a prestigious list of young rugby players who have been honored as recipients of the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship: Ben Pinkelman (2014), Hanco Germishuys and Brian Nault (2015), and Kenneth "Chuck" Wallace and Patrick French (2016).

As recipients of the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship, Ian and Jackson will be provided a once in a lifetime opportunity: round trip airfare to Durban, South Africa; four weeks of professional instruction under some of the world's top coaches at the Sharks Academy in Durban; and accommodations.

Ian Slack (pictured above) began his rugby career during his freshman year of high school after years of watching his younger brother and friends play. Ian, a duel-sport athlete, instantly fell in love with the game and appreciated the structure of the game in terms of player freedom in comparison to football. He prefers rugby stating that he enjoys the more wholesome and original form of the game.

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“I prefer rugby by a lot. You have more freedom with what you can do. In rugby, you have a lot of freedom to make the decisions on the field, whether they are right or wrong,” said Slack.

Ian was a member of the Torrey Pines High School Varsity Rugby team and the San Diego Mustangs Rugby Club. He has racked up numerous accolades, including representative honors for the Southern California All-Stars, Eagle Impact Rugby Academy player, multiple Man of the Match acknowledgements, and a Southern California Red Division Championship title. Ian will be furthering his rugby career next year at the University of California, Davis. In the future, Ian would like to play for the U.S.A. Eagles or professionally.

Outside of rugby, Ian excelled academically and philanthropically. He maintained a 3.8 GPA and was an active member of the Torrey Pines High School Varsity Rugby and football teams. He was also an active member of the Interact Club, in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Del Mar, and volunteered frequently at Father Joe’s soup kitchen in downtown San Diego.

Ian will be continuing his education at UC Davis in the fall and intends to pursue a degree in pre-medicine. From a young age, he has had a passion for helping others and ultimately wants to pursue a career in the medical field as a researcher. Ian credits rugby to positively impacting his character and shaping the way he excels in many aspects of life.

“Rugby is very much like life, if you work hard in the gym and on the field, then you will work hard in the classroom and at being a good person in general. Playing rugby throughout these past four years has led me to this and becoming the man I am today. I am very grateful for rugby,” said Slack.

Receiving the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship is a dream come true for Ian. He expressed the many emotions that he felt upon hearing the news of becoming a scholarship recipient and how eager he was to get a taste of international rugby in South Africa. Ian is looking forward to seeing his skillset reach new levels and hopefully impact his rugby career for years to come.

“The scholarship itself is a huge honor. I remember getting the news about it and I wasn’t sure if I would get it, because there were so many candidates. But, it almost made me cry at how incredible of a feeling it was to receive this honor. Five weeks in South Africa is no joke, it’s arguably the best rugby nation and it’s a beautiful place."

This year's other Graham Downes Scholarship recipient, Jackson Baere (pictured left), turned to rugby during his sophomore year of high school after experiencing some frustrations playing high school baseball. Interestingly enough, his best friend’s dad, from Durban, South Africa, had been recruiting him to play rugby since kindergarten.

In no time, Baere fell in love with the game and excelled with the Torrey Pines High School Varsity Rugby team and the San Diego Mustangs Rugby Club.

Although, his quick success didn’t come easy; during his first season Jackson was diagnosed with a congenital aneurysm in his brain. He underwent emergency brain surgery and was faced with difficult decisions that would impact his rugby career.

“I switched from a clear path of rugby and the dream of playing in college to a path that was foggy with an unknown end. Right as I fell in love with rugby, it appeared to be taken away,” said Baere.

Ultimately, Jackson persevered and decided to follow his passion to play rugby with one minor requirement, wearing a scrum cap. He says he has a whole new appreciation for every minute he gets to spend on the pitch and that his life has been forever changed by rugby. He earned multiple honors such as numerous Man of the Match acknowledgements, Torrey Pines High School Male Athlete of the Year nominee (2017), Most Inspirational Player (2015-2016), Rookie of the Year (2015), Torrey Pines High School Varsity Rugby team captain, and a Southern California Red Division Championship title.

Off the pitch, Jackson maintained a 3.9 GPA while playing rugby and being an active member of clubs like Torrey Pines High School Associated Student Body, Torrey Pines Reesurf, Christopher’s Foundation, National Honor Society, Torrey Pines High School Beach Volleyball and more. Upon graduating from Torrey Pines High School, he will attend Saint Mary’s College in the fall to pursue a business degree and a position on Saint Mary’s first XV. Looking toward his collegiate career, Jackson is eager to being a leader and win a championship with the Gaels.

Jackson is eager to honor Graham Downes’ legacy by fully immersing himself in the culture of international rugby in Durban, South Africa, “I am absolutely honored to be named a recipient of the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship. I can’t wait to learn what Graham learned and see what he saw. I really want to take in all of the positives and make the best of this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
"The U.S. Foundation is pleased to have Ian and Jackson represent us in South Africa as this year's Graham Downes Scholarship recipients," said USRF Executive Director Brian Vizard. "We know they'll represent the Rugby Foundation, the Graham Downes Scholarship Committee and U.S. rugby with pride and distinction. Hopefully they'll learn a great deal on the rugby field and come back better players, but have a great time off the field and learn things about South African culture."

To honor past Natal and OMBAC great, and U.S. Eagle, the late Graham Downes, the United States Rugby Foundation, with generous support from many friends and colleagues, in particular from teammates of his from the team he founded, the Kwazulu Old Crocs, has set up the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship Fund. The Fund is designed to provide annual scholarships to promising young rugby players with the opportunity to expand their rugby knowledge by participating in the courses at the Sharks Academy.

You can help keep Graham's legacy alive and continue to provide this great opportunity to promising U.S. players by contributing to the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship Fund.

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