In recent weeks I have detected that our outlying towns and communities have an extra spring in their step.
One contributing factor might be the increasing value and interest being shown in country places from tourists and investors from the city.
This was clear to see over Easter when visitors descended on the Wimmera to enjoy our beautiful weather and lifestyle.
But I think the main reason the rural communities are feeling revitalised is the return of footy and netball competitions.
The Horsham District Football and Netball League made a welcome return at the weekend and round one of the Wimmera Football and Netball League continues this Saturday, after Ararat and Stawell opened the season on Good Friday.
For footy to maintain its resonance despite a year lost to the pandemic is something of a triumph, especially when you consider the continuing population drift from the farms and the small towns into Horsham.
People not involved in a club may not realise that a football/netball club’s reach extends way beyond the teams that take the field. For every one player, there are committee members, sponsors, life members, spectators and people who attend social functions.
Our clubs truly are the hub of our communities.
I have witnessed young boys who come from abusive homes and are disconnected from school and the community come to our clubs and feel part of a team. These boys learn respect, discipline, team work, responsibility, mateship and a sense of belonging.
Sporting clubs also help people develop skills in public speaking, problem solving, decision making, conflict resolution, and dealing with people from diverse backgrounds.
An AFL Victoria study revealed that the self-reported mental health of people aged 18-24 associated with a football club is substantially higher than the general population.
Given the higher incidence of mental health issues among young people, it could be argued that football clubs help those at greatest risk of poor mental health.
If there are people new to our area, or locals wanting more social interaction, I strongly encourage them to join one of our local clubs.
Apart from playing, there are plenty of roles to be filled.
You can always be welcomed down at the football and netball club – it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is.