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    Junior football and netball will return this week.

Sport on the edge – Wimmera juniors return

By DEAN LAWSON

Anxious sporting organisations across the Wimmera-Mallee remained in a holding pattern last night as they waited on State Government word for any changes to COVID-19 restrictions.

Anxiety surrounded what opportunities if any would present themselves in regional Victoria in time for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and further into almost half-completed winter sporting seasons.

Latest restrictions, while less severe than in Melbourne, had brought football, netball, hockey and indoor sports to a grinding halt. It left administrators with an unenviable task of navigating clubs and competitions through the rest of 2021.



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To late yesterday, Horsham District Football Netball League leaders had already made a decision to postpone all round-seven games, including juniors, which had been rescheduled for this weekend.

Wimmera Football Netball League’s board, which had also pencilled in a round of games this weekend, met last night to consider options based on club feedback and direction. The board confirmed after the meeting that it would proceed with all junior football and netball games this weekend.

It also decided to go ahead with senior matches if the government further lifted restrictions this week.

Volleyball Victoria Country Championships, involving a major influx of competitors from across the state, were also originally planned for this weekend. Officials have postponed the event until September.

Wimmera Hockey Association had yet to confirm any games this weekend, pending a meeting tomorrow night to discuss options.

And Mininera and District Football League officials met last night amid broad understanding they would call off fixtures this weekend.

Sport, particularly week-to-week mainstream winter sport, has long had recognition as a heartbeat for regional communities. Many recognise its value for mental as well as physical and social community health.

Horsham district league chair Fred Mellington provided insight into the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns had on his organisation.
“It is a very corrosive situation that relentlessly chews at volunteer administrations,” he said.

“The impact is felt at all levels, from the player on the ground to the people overseeing clubs, leagues and regions.”

Mr Mellington said his league had some ‘wriggle room’ to manipulate its draw and had postponed this weekend’s round based on uncertainty.

“Round-seven games will push forward to the next available week. All we’ve done is rejigged the draw to ensure teams play each other once,” he said. 

“With all the uncertainty, the decision was in the interest of all concerned – from catering, rostering and general logistics surrounding what’s involved in bringing communities together. It was simply the right thing to do.

“We look forward to the opportunity for us all to get back into it and continue to remain positive to get our season back on track as soon as possible.”
Wimmera league chair Pauline Butler said before last night’s board meeting that round-eight fixtures were still tentatively scheduled for the weekend, but all would depend on restrictions and club direction.

“We are guided a lot by the clubs and try to do what is best for our league,” she said. 

“It’s been a little bit tough, but that’s the nature of the beast we have at the moment and perhaps for many years to come. We must be innovative and adaptive in this environment.”

Junior competition

Considerable debate has surrounded outdoor junior sport, which can proceed under the latest guidelines. But organisation needs significant logistical manoeuvring in competitions that involve crossover of adult and junior participation and volunteers and crowd numbers limited to 50 people.

Mr Mellington said under the rules it was impossible for the league to run games involving several junior football and netball teams needing to travel across the region.

“Our juniors and seniors are one and the same and we cover considerable distances. It’s not like in the middle of Melbourne where you can just drop kids off at a venue or where kids in a large town can rock up on their bikes to a game without mum or dad,” he said.

“Every weekend we’re a travelling family community.”

Ms Butler said junior competition was a major consideration in assessing what steps her league had taken.

“Children’s mental health and wellbeing is critically important in all of this and getting them back to some sort of normality is very important,” she said.

She urged clubs to monitor social media sites for updates.

Indoor sports such as basketball, gymnastics, calisthenics, squash, table tennis and swimming were still out of action late yesterday as part of regional restrictions.

The entire June 9, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!