By Nick Blewett
After a decade without any junior teams, Smithfield Football Club has experienced a healthy resurgence this year.
The club this season has boys and girls participating in Auskick, Under 7s, Under 9s and Under 12s teams within the SANFL Juniors competition, with growing numbers pointing to more teams next year.
Smithfield junior coordinator Kristie McDonald said the club’s efforts to get a junior program back on track started soon after its first women’s football season finished in 2018.
“We certainly had juniors in the past, but 10 years ago, for whatever reason, it fell apart,” Kristie said.
“No juniors means no future for the club. We have been around for 100 years and if we want to make another 100, juniors are the key.”
It’s been a quick and productive turnaround for the group of junior volunteers who got to work at the end of last season.
They hosted a variety of children’s functions including a Halloween disco “just to get the kids back involved”.
And just like that, Smithfield junior footy was reborn. In term 1, the club’s new Auskick program attracted 62 local children, making it instantly one of the most popular Auskick venues in the north.
In an encouraging sign, the junior program, including the under 12s competitive team, filled within weeks, with the club already planning to grow its number of teams next year.
Kristie credits the introduction of women’s teams as having a profound effect on junior recruitment.
“We only had a women’s senior team start last year – and along with it came a lot of kids,” she said.
“We had all these kids everywhere and we thought, we have to get them playing games too.”
A change in culture also helped attract more families back to the club.
“We’ve had some transfers from kids (at other clubs) to be closer to home, as families are really buying into the hype,” Kristie said.
“Credit goes to the families, the hard-working committee and our chairman,” Kristie says, hopeful of a bright future.
“These kids will not just be future senior players, but future committee members too.”
As another way of bringing juniors to the club, former AFL players Wayne Carey and Ronnie Burns, who both finished their successful AFL careers at the Adelaide Crows, have recently become ambassadors for the Panthers in 2019.
Asked what the plans were for future seasons, the club has it all mapped out.
“We’ve started small, but we plan to have a team in each age group [of SANFL’s juniors] to see these juniors keep coming back and, best of all, watch them grow into seniors.”