Travelling to Townsville, and playing AFL, may not seem like the most life changing experience to some, but for students from Palm Island’s St Michael’s Catholic school it will be the highlight of their year.
On Friday the Garbutt Magpies’ Cup will see 14 teams of year five and six students, from twenty North Queensland schools, compete in the competition which was designed to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.
In its third year, AFLQ’s Townsville Development Officer, Blake Cooper says the competition is a great investment into the future of North Queensland school students.
“The kids are super excited as they don’t get the opportunity to get off the island much and therefore they are keen to come play and also stay in Townsville,” Cooper said.
“It becomes quite the little adventure for them, from the ferry ride, to staying in Townsville or even going to the shops.”
Cooper has been working with St Michaels this year training all the students from prep to year six, teaching Auskick and also focusing on the Garbutt Magpie’s Cup teams.
“In partnership with catholic education we’ve been able to get on a chartered flight to Palm Island which has allowed us to teach the program,” he said.
“We wouldn’t be able to teach the students without their help and it has been the first time in two years that AFL Queensland have been able to run our programs on the island.”
The students have fantastic natural talent and sporting ability but it’s the life lessons and benefits to their education that really excites Cooper.
“It has been good to see the support from the local community getting behind the students,” he said.
“Getting to play AFL has been a reward tool for the students to keep them engaged and participating in school.
“The locals I have talked to agree that the kids need to try hard at school and this program keeps them interested.”
The cup is starting to build that rapport with the kids, their families and the broader North Queensland community.
After a few years it is starting to get a name for itself and how it promotes responsibility to the younger generation and connects them with mentors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders.
“It’s wonderful to see the AFL, local schools and businesses put so many resources into the kids in this competition,” Cooper said.
“The Cup ultimately invests in the kids of Palm Island and around Townsville and allows them to become better leaders in the community going forward.”
Travelling to Palm Island has also been a great personal experience for Cooper who says it is extremely rewarding to experience a different culture so close to home.
“You feel like you’re in a different world but really your only 60 kilometres away from Townsville,” he said.
“It is a range of emotions from seeing the kids smiling and loving life but also travelling across on a seven seater plane can be quite interesting.”
The Garbutt Magpies Cup will take place on Friday August 19 at Murray Sporting Complex from 9:45am.
By Joshua Martin