IT'S not every day that the Prime Minister takes a brief break from running the country to offer encouragement to a school rugby team.
But at Kirkcaldy High, the boys who make up the 1st XV on Dunnikier Way follow in the footsteps of Gordon Brown, who played rugby in the yellow and navy hoops of his school team during the 1960s.
Brown lost the sight of one eye playing rugby as a schoolboy, but he retained his enthusiasm for the game and yesterday took time out from his busy schedule to welcome the entry of Kirkcaldy High School to the Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup at both under-15 and under-18 level.
The Fife school's 1st XV played in the Scottish Schools Cup every year until the teachers' dispute of the late 1980s saw the sport fall away, and it has been a long road back. Rugby all but died at the school, where once it had not been uncommon for each year group to field at least two teams.
Kirkcaldy HS PE teacher Alan Farquharson has been working hard with Scottish Rugby's regional development manager for Tayside and Fife, Doc McKelvey, and Kirkcaldy Rugby Club's development officer, Quintan Sanft, to make rugby popular once more in the school and there are now teams from S1 level upwards.
Now that rugby has regained a foothold at Kirkcaldy High, the Fife school was chosen as the venue to launch this year's event yesterday, and the Prime Minister responded to requests for a reaction with the willingness of a man who made heavy reference to the influence of his old school on the day he took over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister.
"It is fantastic news that more teams than ever before have signed up to the Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup this year, giving more young people the opportunity to get involved in rugby," said Brown through an SRU press release.
"I was especially pleased to see the return of rugby to my old school, Kirkcaldy High School and the launch of this year's tournament at the school. What I remember most about my school days at Kirkcaldy is the sport – running, rugby, football, tennis. And I had the good fortune of playing rugby for what became a great rugby team when I was just fifteen.
"I will never forget the first try I scored for the school first fifteen. I can still remember kicking that ball ahead in terrible weather and scoring the try that won the match.
"You never forget those moments. The lessons I learned then about training hard and being part of a team have been good for me through the rest of my life.
"I am delighted that more young people will have the chance to participate in this great sport."
Entries are up on last year by 35 teams, and there are now 244 competing compared with 184 just two years ago.
Certainly all the players who will start out on the long road to Murrayfield this month will not have to look back a long way for inspiration.
Just this past weekend last season's losing under-18 captain, Stuart McInally (George Watson's College), made his debut for Watsonians in the win at Stirling County, while Peter Horne – a member of Bell Baxter's 2006/2007 under-18 winning team – was playing for West of Scotland against Glasgow Hawks.
As a result of a lot of hard work teams from Aboyne Academy, Alford Academy, Alness Academy, Bo'ness Academy, Grangemouth High School, Denny High School, Grantown Grammar School, Grove Academy, Gryffe High School, Inverkeithing High School, Johnstone High School, Kirkcaldy High School, Loudoun Academy, Nicolson Institute, Rosshall Academy, St Mungo's High School (Falkirk) and Stirling High School are all involved this year.
Marc Wilkinson, senior divisional director at investment managers Bell Lawrie, said: "With another record year for entries we are pleased to see the Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup continue to thrive.
"Eight years ago when our sponsorship began, 56 teams took part and to see that figure increase year on year, with 244 teams entering this season, is very encouraging for the future of Scottish rugby. The competition reaches all corners of Scotland which is great for us as a company as all of our seven offices are able to take in games in their local area."
Colin Thomson, head of community rugby, added: "What we're beginning to see is the results of Scottish Rugby's revised structure – team work in all corners of the country to create links between schools and clubs to maximise the opportunities to play rugby.
"The Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup is providing the opportunity for more children to have more opportunities to play more often and that has to be the recipe for the competition to continue to grow and generate more players for the club game in Scotland."
Once again, this season's finals of both the under-15 and under-18 tournaments will be held on the international pitch at Murrayfield on Wednesday, 18 March, 2009.
Last season Merchiston Castle School won the under-18 event, with George Watson's College coming out on top at under-15 level.
The preliminary, first and second rounds of the Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools cup will be played this month.