Earlier this year AFLNT set out on a mission to reconnect with youth in Katherine and the Big Rivers region and has made leaps and bounds in a matter of months.
Previously the Big Rivers Football League focussed on senior divisions and a much-needed structured junior competition had been missing for a number of years. Feedback from the local community backed up this sentiment during AFLNT strategic planning sessions in 2019 which echoed the idea that the top priority for Katherine was to establish a clear participation pathway for kids in the region.
To make this goal a reality, someone needed to be based on the ground to build these competitions and programs practically from scratch. Rebekah Boyle was tasked with getting the job done and relocated to Katherine thanks to repurposed Northern Territory Government funding.
“I was already working for AFLNT in game development based out of Alice Springs,” Bek explained.
“When I saw this posting come up I knew it would give me an important opportunity to make a real difference and try something new.”
Bek wasted no time and immediately started ticking off weighty boxes from her to do list. Officially starting in the role on 3 August 2020, in almost the blink of an eye, or 20 days to be exact, Bek had launched Round 1 of the Big Rivers Football League Under 12 and 16 competitions.
“Before this year there wasn’t an active youth competition in Katherine or its surrounds,” Bek said.
“Establishing formal youth competitions is undeniably key to creating pathways for the Territory to grow its local footy talent pool, but it’s also important to give kids an avenue to learn about health and fitness and find other ways to connect in their community outside of school.”
Not only did Bek get the competition up and running in record time, the take up from the sporting community was enormous.
“I knew getting this competition off the ground was an important first big ticket item, but I was equally shocked and thrilled when around 200 kids showed up to play in Round 1.”
To give a point of comparison, there are around 660 kids playing in the NTFL Under 12 and 16 competitions which have been around for well over 10 and 40 years respectively. When you compare Darwin’s population of around 148 000 with the Big Rivers and Roper Gulf regions sitting well under 100 000 less, it becomes clear how significant this turn out really was.
“Not only did we get a huge turn-out in the very first round of this newly formed competition, we also had kids travelling from Barunga, Beswick, Mataranka and some making the 644km round trip from Ngukurr to be a part of the game,” Bek explained.
In as little as eight weeks, Bek had set foot in seven other communities outside of her work in Katherine (Barunga, Beswick, Ngukurr, Mataranka, Jilkminggan, Lajamanu and Kalakarindji) to run a variety of programs including school clinics, Auskick and sport and recreation programs. She says the response from the communities has been rewarding and shows the importance of footy to our Territory way of life.
“The communities have embraced these junior competitions and programs with fantastic support and involvement.”
“We’ve had schools get involved, locals volunteer to be umpires and of course the people who give their time and knowledge to coach our upcoming footy champs.”
All in all, Bek can take credit for a total of 846 youths engaging in AFL programs since August with an impressive 38 per cent being females. She will get the chance to celebrate her success on the final night of the Under 12 and 16 competitions this Friday followed by a talent session on Saturday hosted by a special guest.
“The junior competitions come to a head with the final round being played this Friday with trophies and a barbecue to follow,” Bek said.
“Then on Saturday we are rounding off the season with a talent session which will give kids a chance to show off the skills they’ve developed over the season and learn some new ones too.”
It’s no doubt Bek has kicked some huge goals for 2020 but she doesn’t want to stop there. Her focus now is establishing more partnerships with local organisations to hopefully reach more participants, build on the hard work she has already done and to deliver positive messages on healthy lifestyle choices, school attendance and bring about positive community outcomes.
“This role has exceeded my expectation and I look forward to continuing to grow these programs in 2021.”
“It’s given me the chance to work in different remote communities throughout the Territory, learn some of their culture and connect with so many passionate and special people.”