Sporting chance

Post: Sporting chance

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When Tatyana Kelly met NSW Governor Margaret Beazley recently, the young netballer couldn’t have imagined that the conversation would turn so quickly to sport.

Tatyana joined several staff from Girls Academy, including CEO Ricky Grace and general manager (operations east) Renee Crilly, for a yarn with the Governor over Zoom. The Girls Academy patron was keen to hear all about the program, but particularly to get Tatyana’s perspective.

The Narromine Girls Academy student told the former judge about the challenges of COVID-19. “It was hard because working from home I had no teachers to help me and I have younger siblings that I had to help with work as well,” she said. “And it got boring after a while as well because we all play sport and sport was cancelled.”

It turns out the Governor is not only a big fan of netball, a sport she played before switching to squash at university, she believes sport is an integral part of education.

She shared the story of an Aboriginal law student she had mentored as a judge. “She reckons if it wasn’t for sport she would have left school the moment she could, just over age 14, but because she liked sport so much she kept going,” Ms Beazley said. A teacher then encouraged her to join a program that eventually led her to law.

“So that tells me a couple of things — that sport is really important for a whole lot of reasons, including the connections and the support that it gives you. To say nothing of the strategic thinking it gives you and helps develop.”

NSW regional manager Jody South said she could totally relate to that story. “I was absolutely one of those people who stayed at school because of sport. It got me right through school until the last moment.”

Now Jody supervises 13 staff who are responsible for more than 400 students across six Academies in NSW — and she couldn’t be happier.

“I see so many girls who have graduated from this program over the last few years, and the pride that they walk around community with and they are still connected,” she told the Governor.

“They’ve built their networks across the region because they’re doing inter-Academy sports days or inter-Academy excursions, so it actually builds a firm foundation for Indigenous girls across this region. Culturally I’m an aunty to lots of girls across the region and the feedback that I hear around the impact of this program is just amazing. It was one of the reasons that made me want to come and work here.”

Renee Crilly, who said time management skills played a big part in her ability to coach soccer in between running the program across two states, shared her pride in the way staff had responded to the pandemic.

“They did such an amazing job supporting our girls whilst not at school, academically and also monitoring their wellbeing,” she said. “We only have 11 students who have not returned to school out of the state, out of 850. We’ve been doing some webinars with our staff to support their wellbeing, too, and I know they’re learning skills that they can take back and run within the Academy.”

Jody talked about the passion and commitment staff bring to the Academies, two qualities she said are essential for the job. “If you have passion, you can do the role. But this role is demanding,” she said. “I see staff, they’re getting phone calls on the weekend, they live in small communities, so they’re running into students and parents at supermarkets, and at sport on weekends. So even though they have set work hours, they are connected to their community.”

Narromine program manager Karlene Middleton said while the girls at her Academy had been lucky enough to be able to return to some physical activity with social distancing, they are always reminded to respect each other’s different passions.

“We have conversations with our girls on a daily basis about recognising all our different interests and to appreciate and respect that as well,” she said. “We have girls that like reading, girls that like playing netball, girls that like art … I think it makes our little Academy unique. We have a girl who lives on a farm, so she’s teaching us how to milk a cow and things like that. Every one of them has an interesting story to tell. I’ve learnt so much from our girls.”

One thing the girls shouldn’t get too worried about is whether or not their interests translate into knowing exactly what they want to do after school. “Some do. Fantastic,” Ms Beazley said. “But others don’t and think there is something wrong with them if they don’t know what they want to do. Not at all. Things turn out in different ways, that you might not expect. I didn’t actually make up my mind to do law almost until the last month or so of my HSC year.”

The Governor said she believed that everybody needed a stroke of luck and that while smart people recognised it, super smart people picked it up and ran with it. “In some ways, Tatyana, your initial bit of luck might have been the Academy and what that’s giving you,” she said. “You’re obviously super smart because you’re running with it. But then you’ve got to keep that open mind. And I hate to tell you, you’ve got to study hard. That one, you’ve just got to do.”

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