The Big Rivers Hawks have been forced to withdraw from this season's AFL competition in a huge blow to junior sport in the region.
Both the under 18s boys and girls teams have pulled out of the 2020/21 TIO NTFL season which starts early next month.
The Hawks cited a lack of community support and the need for a new governance structure and strategy as the primary reasons for having to make the decision.
Over the past few weeks, several attempts were made by the club and AFLNT to attract coaches and support staff to assist in the operations of the Hawks for this season, but they were unsuccessful.
The Hawks' teams have in the past drawn many players from well outside the immediate Katherine region to provide a wet season sport for youth.
Most weekends in recent years the Hawks have had to travel to Darwin for games.
This season only four home games were allowed for the Hawks.
The Big River Hawks women's team was withdrawn from the TIO NTFL Women's Premier League part way through last season because of a lack of numbers.
The Hawks said the break will now allow both parties to reset and shift focus to developing strong junior programs which will underpin future success for the region.
The Hawks and AFLNT will work together to make sure players who were due to pull on the guernsey will still have an opportunity to do so; whether it be helping to facilitate a move to another NTFL club or by running structured programs this wet season with a view to representative opportunities in the near future.
In August, Rebekah Boyle commenced as Youth Development Manager for Katherine, and the impact has been immediate with NAB AFL Auskick already up and running in multiple locations around the region, and an Under 12s and Under 16s program due to kick off at the end of October.
The programs complement those of AFLNT's Regional Development Manager in Katherine, Gavin May, whose role it has been to oversee the operations of Big Rivers Football League before assisting with the wet-season youth programs, which will now include opportunities for Under 18s.
Hawks president Vikki Gardner said it was a sad day for the club but a decision that would let the Hawks up for future success.
"No club can operate without coaches, team managers, trainers and support staff, and that is the problem we faced this NTFL season.
"But away from the field, we also need to be headed by a robust committee; one that will create and own a strategic plan that has a firm eye on making the club successful in the future and is backed by strong governance.
"The feedback we received from past BRH supporters is that we need to scale back to the community level, gain support here and rebuild.
"With junior footy restarting in the region it allows us to concentrate our efforts in this area and to create a pathway that will see the return of the Hawks in years to come," she said.
AFLNT CEO, Stuart Totham said that before COVID-19, a five-year Australian football strategy for the Big Rivers region had been finalised and it spoke to the underlying need to focus on junior and youth footy in the area.
"We are disappointed that we will not have the Hawks in the 2020/21 TIO NTFL season, they have been a big part of Territory footy's history. But, it is also for the advancement of Territory footy that we understand the need to pull back this year to better set up for future generations.
"With two AFLNT staff now based in the Katherine region, we will be working closely with the Hawks and the community to make sure we have programs for the five-year-olds who are running around in Auskick to 62-year old Ngukurr Bulldogs player, Keith Rogers.
"With a bit more time, we will have clear options in place and a pathway for aspiring footballers in the region, regardless of age or gender or whether it be BRFL, NTFL, NT representative or higher ambitions that they seek," he said.
The competition continues in the Big Rivers Football League with preliminary finals this weekend before the grand finals are played on Saturday, September 26.
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