It’s been featured on the BBC, in USA Today, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in The Telegraph in Great Britain, on NPR, in Forbes magazine, and in countless local media outlets. But for Soulsville Charter School alumnus Kaivion Nisby, Memphis Inner City Rugby came as a surprise one day while “just playing around outside like kids do.”
Kaivion, who attended TSCS from 6th through 12th grades and graduated in 2018, says when he was in middle school, former teacher Brad Trotter “asked me if I wanted to throw a ball around. He threw it to me and I caught it but I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t a football or a basketball and he told me it was a rugby ball and to throw it backwards to him. So I did and I just started running around in circles throwing it behind me and that’s when I started playing rugby.”
That catch was something that caught on at TSCS in 2012, when the school formed its first rugby team in conjunction with Memphis Inner City Rugby. And it caught on across the city, with hundreds of young men and women playing a sport that had been primarily played in the suburbs by more affluent students.
And, as Memphis Inner City Rugby co-founder Shane Young will tell you, the magic of ruby is not so much about the sport itself but about the young boys and girls who are playing (TSCS was the first school in Memphis to offer rugby for girls) and the coaches and educators and everyone involved that have collectively made the game a game changer by using it as a tool to build character and create families.
Kaivion – who, while at TSCS, had coaches Brian Coldbridge, Sanam Cotton, and Trotter – says about his coaches, “They were honestly amazing because in all my years in sports I had never had coaches who cared about me not only as athlete but also as a student and as an individual. I could tell that they cared about every aspect of my being from my health to my mental and physical condition. They always made sure I was okay in all my classes and I very much appreciated that.”
According to Cotton, who, in addition to being the TSCS rugby coach is also a 6th grade ELA teacher, “Kaivion has always been the kindest person ever. He set the tone, which is hard in high school with your peers and even people older than him. Kaivion created what it means to be a part of Soulsville Rugby. Playing and acting with respect, by representing not the name on the back but the crest over his heart. Kaivion’s impact goes far beyond the field; the culture he helped create lives everyday with the current team. “
That sense of compassion between student and coach is also one that is shared between teammates and even at times the opposing teams.
“In rugby,” says Kaivion, “You have to learn how to tackle and not get hurt and how to fall and not get hurt so you’re always watching out for the other people playing on both teams. And when you get older in high school you have to watch out for the younger players who take on rugby and make sure they learn the same lessons. Mentoring and helping younger players when I was older in high school really helped build character for me because then I had them coming to me to ask questions and ask for advice instead of just asking the coaches. That really meant a lot to me.”
All of this, whether by design or not, says Kaivion, helps form bonds that might not exist without the rugby program. “When I played football we were just all on a team and nobody really cared who I was; we were just teammates. But with rugby it was more like a family. I had people telling me I should watch out for my health, watch what I ate, that I should work out more. And I did the same for them. And we would ask each other if we’d all done our homework so we just kept each other in tip top shape. I never stepped off a rugby field after a game or practice and thought my job was done. I had to check on my teammates and make sure everyone was okay. You get a real feel for people in rugby.”
After graduating from TSCS in 2018, Kaivion attended Clark Atlanta University but played for the Morehouse College rugby team his first year in college. He then decided to come home to attend the University of Memphis, where he studies health sciences with a concentration in sports physical therapy. And, yes, he is currently on the University of Memphis Tigers rugby team. He also serves as a Memphis Inner City Rugby alumni coach. The school where he was first assigned: The Soulsville Charter School.
“That was a big challenge for me,” Kaivion says,” because it was my first time actually coaching and I had to teach people things I had learned. It made me get out of my comfort zone and definitely made me a better teacher.”