A memorial garden for James Ackerman, the young Sunshine Coast footballer who last year died playing the game he loved, was officially opened by his family at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday.
Located just inside the main entrance gate to the stadium, the garden will provide a permanent reminder of James who grew up on the Coast and went on to play in the Intrust Super Cup for the Sunshine Coast Falcons and Redcliffe Dolphins, as well as having a stint with the Brisbane Broncos’ under-20s program.
Its features include a plaque detailing his life story in words and 13 photographs; the number 8 – James’s playing number in this final appearance for the Falcons; and a large rock with handprints from James’s wife Saraa and their two children, Ollie and Milly.
Plants for the garden were selected and planted around an exisiting tree by the Ackerman family.
Falcons CEO Chris Flannery and Dolphins CEO Grant Cleal were part of the unveiling before the two clubs paid a further tribute to the their former team-mate by playing for the James Ackerman Cup for the first time in Round 5 of the Intrust Super Cup.
Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said the memorial garden was a unique tribute to James that would be visited by thousands of competitors and visitors to the stadium each year.
“This garden has some very personal reminders and memories of James that his family, friends and mates will cherish,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“Any time someone walks through the main gates, they will see his garden and remember the contribution James made to rugby league, his determination, spirit and skill, the friendships he had with his teammates and staff at the Falcons and the Dolphins and the love of his family.”
Falcons CEO Chris Flannery paid tribute to a "champion guy".
"We were delighted to get James back last year as he was a Sunshine Coast boy who went to Mountain Creek State High School,” Flannery said.
“The club have been really supportive of this memorial and believe it will inspire the players each time they walk through the front gates.
“The team will have James with them each week as we remember what he gave to the club.
“He lived for rugby league. He was a tough competitor and a fine player who in many ways was the heart and soul of our team.”
The memorial was created by Sunshine Coast company Rocks of Remembrance with its rustic design matching the façade of the stadium grandstand.