Darren’s footy Haven: our 2018 Volunteer of the Year
To drive into Camden Haven on the New South Wales North Coast, is to drive into exactly what its name suggests – a haven.
Situated on the water’s edge about 40 minutes south of Port Macquarie, the town pulses holiday vibes with multiple caravan parks leading to small jetties, just calling for people to leap from.
Through the winding streets and past the local pie shop, sits Laurieton Oval at the base of the Dooragan National Park, whose mountains cast a twilight shadow over the home of the Camden Haven Bombers. It is here at the Bombers also, where 2018 AFL NSW/ACT Volunteer of the Year, Darren Mearrick plies his generous trade.
A volunteer for over 25 years, Mearrick’s passion for giving is clear as soon as he shakes your hand. Accommodating in every way, his proud smile welcomes any outsider to his beloved Bombers with his love of the game evident from the second you arrive.
“I get rewarded by watching people enjoy playing and being involved with AFL,” explains Mearrick.
“I have always believed that any person with skills should contribute to their community and I have been a volunteer in AFL and other organisations for more than 25 years. It’s a privilege to serve the community.”
And serve the community he does, giving countless hours to a club he says includes everyone. Just the like Bombers – who play on a rugby league field at present – Mearrick says his club welcomes anyone who hasn’t been able to find a home in another sport.
“Our football club is well-known for encouraging boys and girls, who may not be suited to rugby league, soccer, rugby union and other sports, to play AFL.
“We often call our self the ‘Bomber Family Club’. We will not be defined by results on the field – what defines us is the fun families have at AFL.”
Club President in 2018, Mearrick has in the past performed the roles of Vice President and Committee Member, coach, canteen coordinator, ground manager, newsletter writer, recruiter, sponsorship manager and mentor – a resume familiar to many volunteers right across the AFL community.
In 2018, Mearrick even led a movement at the Bombers to phase out single-use plastic cups, straws and bags. On top of that, he also managed a donation drive where books were given away to anyone wanting, during home games at Laurieton Oval.
We met with Mearrick on a day where he had played the role of coach for the girls of Camden Haven High School where he teaches, at the region’s North Coast Cup Gala Day. If he wasn’t on the sidelines loudly encouraging the girls – brand new to the game – he was in the huddle of the team’s victory song (and dance), providing these newcomers with a lasting memory he hoped would translate into their registration at a local club.
From the North Coast Cup Gala Day, Mearrick had organised an off-season BBQ for some of the Bombers and their families, with an opportune Committee Meeting taking place over some well-cooked snags. Here, Mearrick encouraged the group to commit to filling a Bombers Youth Girls side for the very first time next year. Motion passed.
Though the first to admit that he hasn’t done it alone, his contribution to the club which has seen great growth cannot be denied.
“In 2017, we had eight Auskickers [and] in 2018, we had 24,” explains Mearrick.
“We have already got more sponsors for 2019 than we have ever before. Sponsors want to be associated with us because of our core values of fun, participation and healthy lifestyle.”
It is this kind of passion to grow the game of Aussie Rules in what he deems a rugby league dominated locale, that saw Mearrick awarded the 2018 volunteer award.
Despite Mearrick’s own kids not having played junior football for four years, Community Football Manager for the North Coast and North West, Paul Taylor says his contribution is as large as it ever had been.
“Volunteering is a way of life for Darren, not just a hobby,” says Taylor.
“The AFL isn’t the only organisation lucky enough to have Darren on their side either. He also lends his time to the local SES and Rotary Club, and is a Director of Club North Haven too.
“In the last two years Darren has stepped up to the President’s role despite not having kids playing anymore. He has done this because he loves footy and is passionate about providing opportunities for kids to be involved in sport.
“Darren lives and breathes volunteering and is an inspiration to anyone else who is thinking about contributing at their local club.”
For winning the 2018 AFL NSW/ACT Volunteer of the Year Award, Mearrick was presented an AFL trip of a lifetime – two tickets to the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final with flights and accommodation included, as well as a spot in the traditional AFL Grand Final Parade.
Proudly leading the procession of Grand Finalists from Melbourne’s Parliament House and to the MCG, Mearrick was only one win away from being able to see his beloved Tigers in the biggest game of the year.
Every state’s Volunteer of the Year was also presented with a certificate of accomplishment on stage in front of thousands at the AFL’s Footy Festival following the parade. Despite the pouring rain that welcomed Mearrick on stage, his beaming smile was again evident as the man proudly sporting his Camden Haven Football Club polo accepted his award.
“To be named Volunteer of the Year was the highest honour I have ever received and I am so grateful for the award. When It was announced I was stunned and could only say ‘Wow’. It is also a very humbling experience as I don’t volunteer for awards.
“The certificate I received is on proud display in my lounge room. When John Eren MP [Victorian Sports Minister] and Gabrielle Trainer [AFL Commissioner] congratulated me, I was so proud I almost burst into tears. I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”
Aside from his passion for footy and his community, it’s a simple fact that drives Mearrick daily, and one that he encourages others to acknowledge and act on.
“My key message to anyone thinking about becoming a volunteer is that there is always a job that needs to be done and the more volunteers the better.
“Most jobs such as running water, time keeping, serving a coffee in the canteen, putting out chairs and tables don’t require training and are very important in a football club.
“It’s a fun way to meet a diverse group of people and feel more connected with your community. Volunteers are also highly respected and greatly valued in their communities.
“Without volunteers, there cannot be football and people would not have the opportunity to play or watch the greatest game of all.”