HE MAY be an English teacher - head teacher of English at Kadina High School in fact - but it's for his passion for promoting Rugby League that Mark Ippolito has just won the Holiday Inn National Secondary Teacher of the Year award.
His win was announced at Rugby League's 2012 One Community awards at Sydney Town Hall on Monday at the start of a week of Grand Final celebrations.
Mr Ippolito's $2500 award (which brought with it a $500 equipment pack for the school) was for a high school teacher who has demonstrated exceptional support of Rugby League through the provision of opportunities for students and the integration of league-related teaching material into their programs.
Arriving at Kadina three years ago, Mr Ippolito found every second student had a football in their hand, but no team to play in. The school now boasts five teams and four coaches on staff.
Two years ago he got together with concerned parents to form Country Rugby League and Kadina Engagement (CAKE), a program for at-risk Indigenous students.
"They respond fantastically to it. One kid I just spoke to has gone from multiple suspensions to only two lately. Anecdotally, attendance has markedly improved," Mr Ippolito told The Echo.
The kids have earned NRL accreditation through refereeing and coaching clinics and now go into other district public schools where they referee and coach younger players.
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