A FORMER Southern Steel player and teacher aide Jennifer O’Connell has won her Aurora College Senior A netball team a grant to get the players to the South Island Secondary School Championships.
The ANZ grant gives netball clubs and teams a chance to help them advance their training and put their best foot forward on game day.
The grant, which includes funding for tournament fees, travel, accommodation, backpacks, duffle bags, polo tops and competition tops, means Aurora College’s Senior A netball team will be able to step on to the court with confidence at its first South Island tournament.
O’Connell came to know the team in 2020 while she was on a teacher aide placement at Aurora College while recovering from knee surgery.
It became her dream to get the Aurora College players to a tournament too.
“I’ve got kids in my team who have never been out of Invercargill. It (the netball tournament) was the highlight of my time at school. It’s going to give them a new experience, it’s fun and it’s character building too.”
O’Connell applied for the grant because she didn’t want the players to miss out on the fun.
“Some of the kids have had a tough background. I know the families can’t afford it, so I didn’t want the cost to be a barrier for the kids. It’s about giving these kids an experience they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.”
O’Connell’s other major driver is using netball to inspire the kids to stay in school.
“When I was at school, one of my siblings had left school early. I thought that was what I would want to do but netball absolutely kept me at school.
“A lot of these kids will get to an age and they’ll want to leave school. If I can give them a reason to stay now, that’s great. I don’t want them to regret leaving and I want to help make them into positive young women.”
O’Connell said the grant would set the school’s netball programme up for years to come.
“I think the fact that they’ll all have matching stuff will help them bring it all together as a team. When I told them about the gear, and that they get to keep it, they were so excited. When you see their gratitude for it, you realise it’s a really awesome thing.”
When the 2021 season began and the coaching position for the Senior A team opened up, O’Connell couldn’t resist.
“It’s like a bug, I think I’ve caught it.
“My old coach, former Silver Fern Georgie Salter, was hugely influential for me in netball and life.
“I feel like the things that I’m doing with Aurora College are because of her. I’m carrying on what she did for me and I feel like I’m her prodigy in a weird little way.”
She does not believe she will make a return to the ANZ premiership competition so wants to carry on with the team.
“One year just isn’t enough, I can see the progress these kids have made and I want to keep developing that.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak and alert level changes throughout New Zealand, the South Island Secondary School Championships have been postponed to 2022.