NSW Club of the Week: East Wagga-Kooringal

By James Matthey

With their home ground located on Crown land, East – Wagga Kooringal (EWK) is used to working harder than most to get things done.

The club receives little assistance from the local Council in caring for Gumly Oval, and often relies on the dedication and goodwill of club members to maintain the ground.

Fortunately, 2013 has seen a change in fortune for the Hawks, who, with the help of AFL NSW/ACT, have undertaken significant renovations to improve the facilities at their spiritual home.

Club President, Rob Richards, said that receiving the Joss Group and AFL Facility Grant from AFL NSW/ACT had allowed the club to make some much needed upgrades to Gumly Oval.

“Our change rooms were in desperate need of refurbishment and we were fortunate enough to get an AFL JOSS Facilities Grant,” said Richards.

“That enabled us to refurbish the showers and paint our change rooms, including lining under the roof.

“The players’ change rooms were upgraded and new umpires’ change rooms were constructed.

“Our netball court was deteriorated, and we were fortunate enough to get a state government grant that assisted us with resurfacing our netball court with hot mix.”

This was the first time that the change rooms had been renovated in over 40 years, creating a more welcoming environment at the place that EWK have called home since the 1950s.

Now, the club can lay claim to some of the finest facilities in the area, but they aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon, already arranging the installment of a new watering system and scoreboard.

“It’s been a boost in morale for our members but also the feedback we’ve got from opposing teams and the umpires has been really pleasing, they’ve been very appreciative of what we’ve done,” said Richards.

“Our next priority is to install a new watering system for the ground which we desperately need to improve the ground’s surface.

“We’re about to have a new scoreboard constructed with the assistance of our club charity DefenceCare.”

One of the key drivers behind the recent developments at East Wagga has been Ken Reynolds, who has been with the club since he moved to Wagga Wagga in 1975.

Reynolds began his tenure as secretary in 1976, and also held the post of president for a handful of years in the early 1990s, constantly devoting his time and money towards making the club as successful as it could be.

During his time at the club, the East Wagga icon started a business that now operates all over the world and has more than 400 employees, but an undying love for the club has meant that walking away to focus solely on his commercial interests was never an option.

“I think the football club has been terrific, you get to mix with different people and the pressures are different and the interests are different so it’s been good for me,” said Reynolds.

“It’s just something I love doing…it’s a labour of love.

Rob Richards said East – Wagga Kooringal wouldn’t be the club it is today without Reynolds at the helm.

“He’s the heart and soul of the club.

“His passion for the club is a great example for other members to follow.

“Without Ken Reynolds, we would have struggled to survive.”

The club is also benefiting from a new partnership with the RAAF base in Wagga Wagga that has come to fruition this season.

This new association was founded prior to the start of the 2013 season, and provides East Wagga with access to facilities at the air force base, as well as access to a number of quality players.

On the field, the club has benefited greatly, with several of the RAAF brigade cracking the first grade squad, including Tim Davison, who is arguably, according to club President Rob Richards, one of the top three players in the league.

Richards said the new agreement is just as valuable for the defence force personnel as it is for the football club, because it is instrumental in getting them involved in the life of the local community.

“The boys have really enjoyed the club and we’ve really enjoyed bringing those guys into the club, they’re really nice guys and they’ve fitted in really well,” said Richards.

“From a cultural perspective, we’ve given those guys a social link to civilian life in the town.

“It’s allowed them to meet people and get involved in the community and make friends and links in the community, and that’s where I think they’ve benefited.”

Brett MacDonald, who has been with East Wagga for a handful of years while working at the RAAF, sees first hand just how important football is in providing military personnel with new social experiences.

“Being in the air force for as long as they have it’s very easy to get stuck in the same rut, you’re just used to doing what the air force does, so it gives guys the opportunity to experience different personalities, different people and gets them involved in the community,” said MacDonald.

“It gets them off base and gets them involved with people that they may not normally socialise with because of their involvement with the base.”

Ken Reynolds is confident that with the new facilities in place and with the young talent coming through, East – Wagga Kooringal will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

“Lots of good things are happening around our club at the moment, it’s just a good place to be at right now.

“The junior club’s getting stronger every year, so East Wagga will come again, we’re on the way.”