The Horsham and District Football Netball League has put the call out for more players, with junior netball and football teams across the region struggling to fill teams
League chairman Fred Mellington said many Horsham and District clubs have been searching for junior players with the season just weeks away and called on parents to recruit their kids into junior sport.
"At the moment some clubs are struggling more than others, but we only have two clubs out of twelve that have a full eighteen on their roster for what would be a normal game," he said.
"We have been struggling with junior numbers for 20 years, but this year is maybe just a little worse.
"But there is nothing more cyclical than junior sport; footy and netball. You can be premiers one year and last the next.
"They (the kids) are working, they are riding motorbikes or they are just not playing at all."
Mr Mellington called on parents to help spread the message of the benefits of junior sport and the importance of these these teams to rural communities.
"Junior participation in football and netball is an absolute concern and that comes back to parents making sure that they understand what value their kids can get from playing the game," he said.
"Our clubs are all community clubs and our football and netball clubs are the hub of the community.
"And the reality is if we lose these clubs, we lose these communities and they will be gone forever.
"We have to maintain them and to do that we need junior numbers and we needs kids to come on board and be apart of it.
"We are appealing to parents to make sure they are aware of the life skills their child can learn by playing a team sport.
"Junior participation in football and netball is an absolute concern and that comes back to parents making sure that they understand what value their kids can get from playing the game"Fred Mellington
"Responsibility, team work, working with others and learning how to win and lose are all life skills that are applicable to everyone's daily life and things that kids can learn through a game of football."
Mr Mellington said the league have been working with the AFL Wimmera Mallee to change their bylaws to allow games with less players, but are hoping as the season starts kids will regain their enthusiasm for the game.
"We have just got to get the ball bounced and it will give us some form of normality back into our lives and we will see what we can do after that," he said.
"Hopefully once there is a few games going, a few kids in the school yard might become a bit more interested to play with their mates.
"Without appealing to their parents and mentors to encourage them whole-heartedly to play sport, I don't know the answer.
"We are also really encouraging clubs to work together to get even teams to help get the games of footy going."
Taylors Lake president Tammy McDonald said her club was struggling with numbers, but were trying a number of different options to help recruit players.
"We don't have as many players as we have had in previous years although we are aiming to put all juniors teams on the field and court each week," she said.
"But it hasn't been easy and I think we will find it hard all season.
"Our aim is to make sure the kids we have got that are keen to play are going to get a go each week.
"When you struggle with junior numbers, in a few years time you will have that flow on effect through to the senior grades.
"So we have been running an advertising campaign and we have been offering free tea so our juniors will get a meal after training and we are offering transport to training and game days too."
Ms McDonald said there was a "lack of interest" as junior players used 2020 to find different interests.
"I think while kids weren't able to play last year, they were able to find other interests and some have found they can work, earn money and not worry about sport," she said.
"Others have found other sports that haven't been so effected by COVID, like motorcycle riding.
"Footy has always been a family affair, but parents have also got their weekends back as well, so they aren't as concerned if their kids play or not."
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