‘School of Hard Knocks’ could be heading to Toronto

Justis Danto-Clancy is hoping to bring the hit rugby series from the U.K. to Canada

Rugby fans in Toronto will be rooting for Justis Danto-Clancy in the coming weeks as the 23-year-old hopes to bring a Canadian version of the U.K.-based TV series “School of Hard Knocks” to Ontario’s capital.

Currently in its third season in the United Kingdom, the series is being carried by Sky Sports and involves two retired rugby pros training a team of participants who have faced social challenges in their past.

It has been a huge success so far and the youngster is hoping to emulate that popularity here in Canada.

“The idea there is that by introducing rugby into a violent community, you can not only reduce crime rate and violent aggression, but also teach teamwork, self-worth, and valuable principles that lead to a productive society,” says Danto-Clancy.

“And it’s been proven to work which is really cool and exciting.”

His plan is to replicate the show’s values in one of Toronto’s socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

“My idea is to implement this system either in Regent Park or Scarborough, and to include members of the community between the ages of 16 and 50 probably. And ideally be able to provide them with a team to be a part of.

“A new sport is a conduit for exposing these people to challenges that they haven’t experienced already or just sort of the values of sports. And this can be used as a way to also provide legal aid and job training.”

There is also an enticing reward for those who participate on the show.

“Ideally, at the end of the whole process, there will be a match between an established rugby club and the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ team. And also a little job fair. Just like any other citizen, they’ll be able to interview for a job.

But putting everything together is no easy task. Danto-Clancy acknowledges that there’s a long way to go before the TV series is given the green light.

“Certainly one of the challenges that I’ll have is that rugby is an established sport in the U.K. more so than it is in Toronto.

“There were two retired pros, Scott Quinnell and Will Greenwood, who are recognizable faces in the U.K. who work for ‘School of Hard Knocks.’ It would be the equivalent of having Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky walk around to try and produce a hockey team here.”

Even more an obstacle is the financial aspect of producing the show. Danto-Clancy has set $50,000 as the magic number for making “School of Hard Knocks” a reality, a figure he hopes to attain in two different ways.

“First is trying to reduce the actual cost by getting things donated – things like a rental van and kits for the participants. Getting companies to understand this will be a filmed project and it’s great brand exposure for them, especially when Regent Park has been in the news so much recently. For that I’ll be approaching suppliers, the City of Toronto, and perhaps even the Toronto District School Board.”

The second way involves donations from “middle men” as Danto-Clancy puts it.

“There’s donations from either companies that have a stated interest in improving inner-city conditions. Or there are sort of these middle men. The one that comes to my mind for me is a company called Manifest. What Manifest does is it matches charity causes with donor foundations.

“I’ve got an interview with Manifest Industries next week where I’m going to pitch them ‘The School of Hard Knocks’ so I can be one of the causes on their table.”

Backing from Manifest would do wonders in terms of getting the wheels turning for producing the TV series.

But it’s the backing of the show’s producers in the U.K. that is really helping Danto-Clancy push forward with such an ambitious goal.

“Ken Cowan and Jack Lewars piloted this project and wouldn’t quit. And that’s sort of the attitude that I’m putting forward here. I’ve been in contact with both Ken and Jack and they’re both on board with this project.

“I feel really privileged to have their support.”