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Moree Boomerangs overcome their demons

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.

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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.

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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.”