Closing a gap is best achieved by moving from both sides – a united approach.
It’s a simple statement but one that is at the heart of Maitland’s newest rugby league club Maitland United as they embark on their first season back in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League after 30 years.
“As it says in the name, Maitland United, we wanted to bring the club back into the local comp as a team for everyone,” club president James Ballangarry said of the club which has previously competed in the Koori Knockout Comp
“We’ve had a lot of non-indigenous people supporting us in the Koori Knockout Comp with sponsorship, buying merchandise, coming to the games, even running water.
“To now get an opportunity to have those people come out out on the field, running on side by side is exciting and really emphasises our united approach.”
The club’s playing group is a mixture of men and women from indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds and the mix for greater understanding and to use sport as a conduit to influence change excites, Ballangarry.
“We are a very community minded club and part of being community minded is also tacking all of the other issues in our community, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be closing the gap, poverty, employment or education,” he said.
“We are hoping to help our community in any way we can, to give back to the community that has supported us so much.”
The club has an on-going relationship with Carrie’s Place and stands against domestic violence.
“As a club we oppose domestic violence,” Ballangarry said.
“But equally importantly we’ll have a support network for anyone who is affected by domestic violence.
“We can say to everyone involved in the club that at anytime if they need help or support we are there for them. We are united as a club to help you.”
Ballangarry, a 23-year-old university student, said he was excited about the opportunities the club offered in opening young and old to new experiences, positive role models and cultural exchange.
“Closing the gap applies to health, education and employment but there is also a cultural gap, with indigenous and non-indigenous people unaware of each others culture,” he said.
“We don’t want to just produce good sporting people but good people in general.
“Sport I believe is a gateway to developing key qualities in a person. Qualities such as discipline, respect, teamwork, compassion, sportsmanship things that help to grow great character in a person.
“To be honest I think that is our ultimate goal as a club.
“Football clubs are in many ways the core of communities and open up education and employment opportunities.
“I know for myself that when I was growing up in the west of Maitland, I really didn’t know anyone other than my teachers who had gone to university.
“We have several players and people involved in the club who are either studying or have been to university. One of our girls is studying speech pathology and another is studying primary school teaching like myself
“We have bakers and people involved in mining.
“Being around the club, kids can see that these career paths are open to them and can sit down and talk with people about how to go to university, or how to become a baker.”
The club is based at McKeachies Oval and has a senior men’s team, under-19 boys and women’s league tag team and regularly has up to 30 players across the three teams at training.
“One of our main priorities was to give our girls and women a chance to take part in the game,” Ballangarry said. “We want to be on the sidelines cheering them on, running water out to them as they have done for us.
“I’m really excited to see the women play. I like to look at the under 19s and think that in a year or two they will be playing with the men.”
Ballangary said the club was building it’s united culture on the training track with a club ethos of not leaving anyone behind
“Through all our training we only push ourselves at the level of our unfittest person. Through that we are finding that players are lifting. They say to themselves ‘these people are here with me I’ve got to push up and take it to a new level’,” he said.
“It’s not about who can finish first, who’s the fastest. It is about getting work done, doing it united, not letting anyone down and not putting anyone down.
At the end of every training session, everyone at the ground from players to volunteers, younger siblings on the sideline and players’ children gather in big circle for a final communal chant.
Players and sponsors are still being sought. Anyone interested can email Ballangarry at firstname.lastname@example.org