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Community clubs add value

Renee Wilson, 23, began her netball career with Kinglake in 2008 the year when Kinglake begun playing country footy in the AFL Yarra Ranges after leaving the Northern Football League - a Melbourne competition – that Kinglake was not competitive in.

Changing from metropolitan footy to country footy in 2008 changed the Kinglake sporting landscape for the better. Ashley Geelan reports.

Renee Wilson, 23, began her netball career with Kinglake in 2008 the year when Kinglake begun playing country footy in the AFL Yarra Ranges after leaving the Northern Football League – a Melbourne competition – that Kinglake was not competitive in.

At this point the club was about to fold and was unable to field full sides in 2007 due to the lack of competitiveness which could be described as ‘Kinglake being smashed every week.’

The change meant Kinglake fielded women’s netball A, B, C and D grade teams for the first time in history and local women too could represent Kinglake “rather than just being canteen ladies or the girlfriends” of local footy players.

The change meant former players returned and with women now joining the club both on and off the field success soon followed.

For Renee the addition of netball changed her and her friends’ life. Renee had always wanted to be involved in the club like her late father stating: “I don’t want to be a bar wench or canteen lady…I want to be an active participant of the club.”

Renee’s late father Gary Wilson was a Kinglake FNC life member and committee member for over 35 years and a well-known local.

“It was great to watch my brother and the boys play when I was a little girl.”

“I always felt it wasn’t fair though (because) I too wanted to join the fun,” Renee said.

No one could have predicted that after just one year of revitalizing the club Black Saturday would occur with the club then becoming a focal point of community.

Special matches were held involving fire-affected towns, with 774 ABC Melbourne’s Coodabeen Champions covering Kinglake football as did most local and national media. An annual Kinglake vs Marysville friendly cricket match is now held annually on a rotating basis between Kinglake and Marysville’s home grounds.

Renee still ‘can’t believe the timing’ and how the changing of leagues in 2008 ‘changed her life.’

Renee is a prime example of how involvement in a local sporting club has many more benefits than just on-field participation, such as a greater feeling of well-being and greater chances of employment leading to Renee’s employment as senior staff of the Kinglake Hotel.

Renee described it as a “feeling of connection” and “being part of something that benefits not just me, but the wider community.”

The introduction of netball has also helped the club financially as well as adding to the support needed from and involvement of local businesses. With most Kinglake employment being in the hospitality, retail or service industries the inclusion of netball has seen a stronger connection between local employers and the club.

“It’s great that the pub supports me and rosters my shifts around match day and training nights,” Renee said.

A positive to come from Black Saturday was, unlike most clubs in the AFL Yarra Ranges competition, the Victorian Government funded the installation of four new netball courts, lighting and a separate building incorporating women’s change rooms, toilets and facilities not available in Kinglake’s football club rooms, unless they wished to share changing facilities with male footy players.

People like Renee help make small community sporting clubs a large part of a rural community. The Kinglake Football/Netball Club owes its success today to Renee and her friends who continue to support the club and through doing so, the wider community.

In just a few years Renee has not only picked up where her father left off but has achieved so much for the club and local women in just a few years. A remarkable achievement for any 23-year-old, let alone when starting with nothing but a netball and a dilapidated tennis court functioning, poorly, as Kinglake’s makeshift netball courts.

“When I started playing for Kinglake all we had was an old netball and an overgrown tennis court to train on.”

“The club couldn’t even afford to buy us netball skirts…”

Renee is not understating it when she says “Without the netty girls the club probably would’ve folded years ago by now.

“Now all we need Ash is a women’s footy team too,” Renee added.

Not many locals nor this reporter would be surprised if Renee and her friends soon had a women’s AFL team up and running in a few years, if not sooner.

It is thanks to local women that the football club became a focal point and place of community, friendship and healing following the Black Saturday bushfires.

It’s people like Renee that make a sporting club a valuable community asset that returns according to a La Trobe University report the value of a community football club $4.40 return in social value for every $1 spent on the club.

Article first published Kinglake Ranges News, May 26, 2017.
The author, Ashley Geelan, is a journalist, former player and committee member of the Kinglake Football Netball Club.


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