Hawthorn players from Melbourne made a splash in Katherine over the weekend attending school events and training sessions.
But their trip was more than a meet and greet and a chance to kick the footy around with young, avid AFL players.
Senior list Hawthorn players from Melbourne, Jarman Impey, Conor Nash and Matthew Walker spent three hot and sweaty days inspiring students to pick up a book, attend class and open up to each other.
The young students of the Katherine Clontarf Academy program were lucky to spend some quality one on one time with the professional players.
“Footy players at that top level are an important link in getting the boys to touch base with how they are feeling and get them involved in school and programs like headspace,” the director of Clontarf Dave Friebel said.
“The messages that come through about healthy lifestyles and making the right decisions have a big and lasting impact.
“And for the boys to see another Indigenous fellow like (Jarman) Impey, who has made it, it becomes real and their dreams become believable,” he said.
Mr Friebel, who runs the program for students from years seven to 12, said interactions with role models build confidence and increase school engagement.
Established in 2008, the program has seen positive results from supporting the students with their education pathways and highlighting the importance of well being.
But it is the special guests like the Hawthorn players which make the biggest impact.
AFL is a thing the boys love and they are naturally gifted. If we can make them feel proud it gets them feeling more confident.director of Katherine Clontarf Academy Dave Friebel
“These visits create a buzz and energy and if they are excited to be at school that is a win for everyone,” Mr Friebel said.
“We often talk about health and general well being, and with AFL footballers, people they look up to, encouraging them to share, it helps.
“It creates a referal point as well. Something we can remember and talk about.
“If it was just a regular Jo who came in to talk about these important issues they might forget, but because it was a Hawthorn player they will remember.”
On Saturday, the Katherine Times caught up with one of the Hawthorn Football Club players to talk about what it was like to visit Katherine and be seen as a constructive role model.
“For us, being role models give these young people someone to look up to,” Jarman Impey said at the Nitmiluk Oval.
The Big Rivers Hawks U18 girls were half way through their game against the Buffaloes, and despite lagging in points, spirits were high with the continued Hawthorn player’s encouragement.
The visiting Hawks had spent the morning running drills with children as young as four and had stuck around to watch the U18 girls play in the heat of the day – 35 degrees – taking turns running water out.
“We have been having good chats with these students about how it is okay to share their feelings, which is hard when they have probably been taught that you should hide them,” he said.
“These programs we have been supporting (headspace, Deadly Choices, Katherine Clontarf Academy and a new book Damo Makes his Mark) give them a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Growing up in country Victoria, Jarman Impey, whose mother is Indigenous, said the trip to Katherine has connected him with his culture.
“I was drafted six years ago and it was only then that I saw what life was like in communities.
“Being Indigenous, finding out about the culture and being an AFL footballer I feel like I have more of a voice and a leadership role.
“There is a lot of talent here and there needs to be the same opportunities for kids here as there are in the big cities.”
Disparities in the simple things like change rooms, facilities and roads have shown him how lucky he is to be a player down south.
“It is not good or bad, it just shows us how lucky we have it,” Impey said.
“To see kids running around and playing footy with no shoes, I have never seen that face to face.”
Mr Friebel said he hoped the learning was not a one way street.
“Our students get this great opportunity to learn about a different world when we have visiting players, it is inspiring for them and there is a lot of value in it,” Mr Friebel said.
“But we hope our boys can teach them some things too.”
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