Eye-opening experience

February 21, 2018

There are a number of AFL stars in this photo. Can you name them?

Before I started playing junior footy, I was a quiet, shy kid who didn’t really like people.

I was really big for my age and just loved playing ball sports with my parents.

I went to Auskick once, but was turned away pretty quickly after I made a few kids cry and kicked five goals in the first five minutes.

My parents decided it was time for me to join the local under-9s football team as a six-year-old.

I developed a lot earlier than the other kids and couldn’t wait another year or two to start playing competitive sports.

This moment has changed my life forever.

My parents didn’t have a lot of money at the time, and my coach said he would provide me with free registration and help with transport to the games since our car was always breaking down.

I remember it being hard at first, not knowing anyone in the team and not really knowing how to fit in.

But thankfully my play did all the talking and I was soon known as that ‘‘big kid’’ that every team needed to worry about.

I was rough but fair and used the games as a positive way to expend my energy and aggression.

I won my first league best and fairest at 11 and was asked to try out for a local ‘‘representative’’ side.

I had no idea what team I was trying out for, but went along anyway because it was just another chance to have a kick of the footy.

I dominated the games and next thing I know I was picked for the Victorian Football team and named the vice-captain.

In those days there was no Victoria metro or country side, it was all just one team.

So at the time I was in the best 22 in the entire state.

The tryouts and the team selection changed my mind forever.

I didn’t really spend much time with many different cultures at the time, and it was my first time meeting an indigenous Australian and an African Refugee.

They both became my best friends at the camp and it was the first time I truly felt a genuine connection with people I had only just met.

I learnt about their culture, history and life struggles and at that moment I really learnt the meaning of empathy, compassion and just general understanding.

I was taught the term ‘‘privilege’’, which I thought at the time meant having money and being spoilt by your parents, but I could not have been more wrong.

I learnt that the term referred to how you are treated by others and the opportunities you are represented.

I didn’t realise that simple things like walking down the street or visiting a store could be so different if you’re from a different culture.

When I was with Anton and AJ, I was shocked by the treatment they received.

The constant looks from people down the street and even being asked to leave certain stores.

The racial discrimination and vilification from complete strangers shocked and saddened me.

I now understood that privilege meant going about your day without abuse, without dirty looks from strangers and without people thinking the worst of you.

I was always jealous of other kids who had lots of money growing up, but after this experience I knew how lucky I was.

If my first junior coach didn’t provide me with that opportunity to play in the beginning I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

The ‘‘No barriers’’ program started by Benalla Junior Football club really resonated with me and gives local kids the opportunity to grow as a person just like I did many years ago.

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