By the late 1990s, the Moree Boomerangs Rugby League Football Club was in dire straits. Brawls and alcohol-fuelled violence had become a regular fixture of Boomerang games, prompting the NSW club’s expulsion from its Group 19 competition in 1997. It was the low point of a predominantly Aboriginal club with a pedigree that dates back to 1925.
When they were allowed back into the competition in 2009, the club knew it had to change; it entered the Good Sports program with the knowledge both on- and off-field behaviour needed to be addressed. The program gave the club the leverage, support and resources it needed to increase participation and combat anti-social behaviour.
According to club President Mitchell Johnson, the Boomerangs haven’t had any incidents at their games for the last three years.
It’s tempting to call the turn-around miraculous, but in reality it’s taken the determination and grit of scores of people, and the support of the community, to make it stick. By instituting a club Code of Conduct that embraced the Good Sport program’s values, the Boomerangs managed to reduce appearances at the League Judiciary by 95% and start winning premierships; in 2013 alone, they were minor premiers in under-18s, Reserve Grade and A Grade, with major premierships at A Grade and under-18s.
“Participants,” Johnson says, “come to our functions without fear or regret.” Indeed, participants often come to functions on a courtesy bus the club offers, while healthier eating habits are encouraged at the canteen, and smoking’s not allowed in dressing sheds or near the benches.
Importantly, their Good Sports values extend off the field. In a Shire with an Aboriginal population of around 22%, the club is the default social hub and its players are key community role models. The club’s taken part in healthy community projects both on the field – they were the 2013 and 2014 ‘Let’s Tackle Domestic Violence’ Cup winners – and off, holding violence workshops, debutante balls and even flu vaccination initiatives.
Vindication came with the win of the 2014 Good Sports Club of the Year Award. “This sends out a great message to the community,” Johnson said as he accepted the award. “We’re always striving for excellence, and Good Sports is a big part of our strategy to achieve that off the field.”