Rugby player returns to former school to inspire students

Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk donates his signed shirt to head of year Charlotte Rush and head of PE James Leggett (R)
Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk donates his signed shirt to head of year Charlotte Rush and head of PE James Leggett (R)

A rugby player returned to his old school to see his first international shirt hang on the school’s ‘Inspiration Wall.’

James McGurk, 18, has become a long way since finishing his A levels at Whitburn Church of England Academy.

The Inspiration Wall at Whitburn Church of England Academy.

The Inspiration Wall at Whitburn Church of England Academy.

Now a semi-professional rugby player, James represented Wales in the Rugby League Under-19 European Championship held in Serbia in August.

James, from East Boldon, found a love for rugby aged 14 when players from Newcastle Thunder visited the school to train pupils as part of the All Stars Rugby Coaching programme.

James quickly excelled in the sport and on leaving school was given a contract with Newcastle Thunder.

After representing Wales, James asked the school if they would like his first Wales strip to feature on their ‘Inspiration Wall’ to thank them for supporting his sporting career.

Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk shirt donation.

Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk shirt donation.

The wall showcases the achievements of former pupils to inspire those at the school and features former pupils like former Newcastle footballer Dan Ward and GB gymnast Louise Lee.

James’ signed Wales shirt was added to the wall along with ex-British gymnast Maddy Gamblin.

His dad Steve McGurk, 59, said: “The school brought in Newcastle Thunder players and James started training with them each week.

“Rugby was completely new to him but he had a real gift for it and started playing for the school team and was its captain.”

Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk vists pupil and Newcastle Thunder U14 rugby player Ryan Crossley

Former Whitburn C of E Academy pupil and Wales rugby player James McGurk vists pupil and Newcastle Thunder U14 rugby player Ryan Crossley

James went on to play for Jarrow Vikings and, earlier this year, was successful in the trial to play for the Wales Rugby League Team.

In the championship Wales came third overall.

He is able to represent Wales due to his Welsh ancestry - his grandmother was from Newport in South Wales.

Mr McGurk said: “He contacted the school to see if they wanted his Wales shirt for the wall as a way of saying thank you to them for the everything they have done for him.”

James Leggett, head of PE at the school, said: “We are immensely proud of James’ achievements and what he has accomplished so far.

“His dedication and commitment to his sport is a great example to our students and demonstrates what you can achieve with hard work and belief.

“Special thanks to All Stars Rugby Coaching, set up by Newcastle Thunder players Rhys Clarke and Joe Brown, who worked with James in school and have played a big part in his development.”

Former students who have had success in their sport and would like to donate a signed item should contact the school.