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Challenging perceptions, Women Leading in League

It’s no secret that mums have long been a strong influencer of what sports kid play. They are the ones that historically have ensured kids get to training on time, jerseys are washed and fresh oranges are offered at half time. But life is changing and so is the framework of junior sport. Parenting is shared and women are taking on key strategic roles within junior sport committees.

The North Sydney Junior Rugby League District (NSDJRL) is cultivating an environment in which female participation is quickly growing and women are leading the way in their junior rugby league clubs. Across the district, women are challenging the perception of league. Their kids play the “bad-boy” of contact sports, rugby league, which is enough to raise a few eyebrows at school pick up on the North Shore of Sydney, and yet these women have taken their involvement in rugby league one step further and are now Club Presidents, Registrars, Board Members, Trainers, Team Managers, Wellbeing Officers, Digital Platforms and Social Media Managers and much more.

In conjunction with Norths Collective and the North Sydney Bears, the NSDJRL recently held a Women Leading in League Appreciation Night at The Alcott in Lane Cove. Key women involved in each of the district’s eight Junior League clubs came together to be thanked for their effort, hard work and commitment to junior league.

It was a relaxed social evening with women discussing why they are involved in their junior league clubs, what drives them, why their kids love to play junior league and why they encourage their kids to play a contact sport. From these conversations, one thing was common and that was the amount of strong, interesting and passionate women who are driving the clubs and growing local participation in junior rugby league.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of junior sport.Without volunteers there would be no clubs, no coaches, no trainers, no team managers and no egg & bacon rolls on a Saturday morning. Endless and tiring hours happen week in and week out to get the kids on the field to play a game they enjoy immensely and benefit so much from. These wholly volunteer run junior league clubs have been defying the odds of youth sport participation.

The North Sydney District had its 4th year of continued growth in 2019 and is again the fastest growing Junior League in NSW. Along with the support and direction of NSWRL and the NRL, they are working towards offering a complete concept of Community Rugby League in which there is a team for everyone.

Lisa Doumit was recently elected as the first female President of the Lane Cove Tigers JRLC and is supported by Karen Clarkson as both Club Registrar and Secretary. Together this dynamic duo is fostering a community club spirit that engages families and supports its junior players. This was evident in the club achieving the highest player retention rate in 2019 across the North Sydney District and continued year on year growth. The club is also set to launch its first all-female Monarch Blues Tag team this year.

Lisa, who was also voted on as a member of the NSDJRL Board for 2020, has 4 children who all play and love the game. “It’s great to give back to the community. My kids love league, love playing with their friends, love the club and love the family nature of it” said Lisa at the NSDJRL Women Leading in League Event.

Lauren Milner has taken rugby mum to the next level and has channelled her passion, interest and knowledge of rugby league to help drive growth not only at her local club, Berowra Wallabies, but across the district as a whole. She is in her second year as a board member of the NSDJRL, has been an active member of the Wallabies club committee for a number of years, is an accredited junior league trainer and this year she has bridged the gap between junior league and senior footy by taking on the roles of team manager for not only the North Sydney Bears Harold Matthews U16s Junior Reps team but also for the North Sydney Bears Harvey Norman Women’s Team.

A trio of women, Vicky Perdikaris, Jodi Zimmer and Karenza Horwood, are active leaders of the Willoughby Roos committee and under their guidance have seen the professionalism of the club rise and define a true identity for the Roos. “My son has grown in confidence in a way that he can direct his team, telling players what to do, calling them out and that confidence then transpires over to school and I put that down to playing junior league” says Jodi whose son plays in the U9s for Willoughby Roos and also managers all of the clubs communication and social media platforms.

Sit around the table at Pennant Hills Cherrybrook Stags and it is hard not to be inspired by the likes of Simone Dahlen, Michelle Loader and Lee Cherry who talk passionately about their club and their junior players and have worked so hard to establish a real Stags family feel. “It’s like belonging to an extended family” Lee Cherry remarks.

Mandy Brisot from Hills Hawks has worked tirelessly, along with the committee, to develop a club culture that supports its young players and this was evident in the 69% growth in participants in 2019 alone. And this year they are excited to welcome their first all-girls Monarch Blues Tag teams in U13s and U15s age groups.

Asquith Magpies is surrounded in strong, passionate women with the likes of Danielle Tickner driving fundraising for their club charity Beanies for Brain Cancer and Jane Mimmo, Club Secretary, has been working to install a player and parent code of conduct to ensure the enjoyment of the game is the main focus.

The newest club in the North Sydney District, and last year celebrating their 5 year anniversary, is Ku-ring-gai Cubs. Jenny Ekanayake’s kids are now teenagers and she passionately spruiks the benefit of being involved in team sports and a supportive club environment during the turbulent teen years.

Leigh-Ann Miller is Club Secretary at North Sydney Brothers who have had great success at implementing a junior league fortnightly in-school program at North Sydney Demonstration called Baby Bros. This program actively engages over 300 Kindergarten and Year 1 kids in rugby league skills, fun games and introduces them not only to the game of rugby league but has fostered a partnership between the school and the local club.

The direction of grassroots junior league in the North Sydney District is in good hands as the sport heads into the winter season kick off on Saturday 4thApril 2020. Perhaps it’s time to challenge any preconceived ideas of junior rugby league and get down to your local club to see what it’s all about and in turn reap the benefits from being involved in your local club both on and off the field.

By Fran Hahlos

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