Rugby league program that's a life-changer

Hayden Schwass is not even a full-time Titan yet but he is seeing first-hand the power of influence NRL clubs can have on their community.

Graeme Clancy was a touch football enthusiast working at the Mudgeeraba Special School when he realised that youngsters with special needs had no way of actively engaging in rugby league.

Candice Green is a 13-year-old Gold Coast girl who due to a chromosome deficiency was given very little chance to live even before she was born, but for the past five weeks has played a modified game of touch football with her friends that for a few short minutes allows her to feel 'normal'.

In many different respects the Touch Football Specialised (TFS) program developed by Clancy and which the Titans community team has worked closely with over the past 12 months is changing the lives of all whom it reaches.

TFS recently released the new All Abilities Series at Palm Beach Touch Football Club which allows individuals with intellectual impairments to participate on the same field as everyone else as teammates, bringing family and friends onto the footy field with them.

Courtesy of club sponsor Trip A Deal donating their "Train With The Team" package, on Friday participants of the TFS program shared the field with Titans players Schwass and Jarrod Wallace before joining the entire squad for lunch at Parkwood International.

For Candice and her mother Judy, it represented the end to a program that has not only allowed them to engage in rugby league but break down many of the social impairments that special needs children can find so difficult to overcome.

"I like her to try new things and she loves going over bumps and going fast so I thought it would be a good thing and she's loved it," Judy told NRL.com.

"She was on oxygen for four-and-a-half years so she's come a long way.

"We were told she'd never make it out of the womb, wouldn't walk, would never come off oxygen and she's just blitzed it every time.

"To actually see her with a smile on her face, moving around, kicking around, clapping, it's just amazing.

"The effort that these people put in just so that they can have a go is amazing.

"Graeme is amazing and to put it together… The faces you see on the kids while they are playing is priceless.

"It's been life-changing, it really has."

Clancy started the program four years ago when six students at his school asked whether they could play touch football too and he was unable to find an option that catered to their unique needs.

Special schools at Southport and Beenleigh soon jumped on board then in 2014 more than 150 kids participated in a state championship held in conjunction with Touch Football Queensland's State Championships which this year attracted 319 students from 21 different schools.

"A lot of the things we work on in the special needs environment are things like learning in new environments, following multiple-step instructions, awareness of personal space and this hits all those areas in a fun environment where they want to be here," Clancy said.

"And they are able to take what they learn in this environment and follow it on in so many different environments.

"We've had some students who need assistance with their behaviour and through this they are learning that it is OK to touch someone else or to be touched by someone else as long as it is in a respectful way, it's in the right context and it's in the right part of the body.

"That's had massive impacts on families socially.

"We've had a lot of the kids go out for birthdays at the local rugby league club now and to even be able to go out for dinner and be in a calm environment where the kids are happy and the parents are happy is just one of the by-products of the competition.

"Personalities come out which is the best thing and the friendships that they make and the social inclusion is fantastic.

"They feel part of something which is really hard to manufacture in a school environment but they put on a shirt with a logo and they feel part of the club."

For Schwass, his five-week participation in the program as one of the Titans' representatives is making his gruelling quest to impress in pre-season training to earn a full-time contract that much easier to cope with.

"It's a good feeling, knowing that you are making a difference to someone's life. It's a great feeling," Schwass said.

"To be able to come down and play footy with these kids puts a big smile on my face, makes me feel good about myself and what I do. I can only imagine what it does for these kids.

"It puts it all into perspective of how good we’ve really got it. These kids try their best with everything that they've got and it definitely makes me train a little bit harder."

This article first appeared on NRL.com