Four standout Support Squad members have been recognised in the inaugural awards celebrating the vital contribution of wellbeing volunteers at community rugby league clubs.
QRL wellbeing staff selected people from the three QRL regions for their efforts going above and beyond at their clubs, with Adam Flier (South East), Megan Hendle (North) and Caloundra Sharks pair Dee Irvine and Shayne Ralph (Central) taking it out.
The quartet received their awards at the 2023 Support Squad lunch at Alex Surf Club on the Sunshine Coast on September 14, coinciding with R U OK Day.
Helensvale Hornets’ Adam Flier helped come up with the concept of having a wellbeing officer present at every rugby league club in Queensland and delivered education for the pilot of Support Squad, and his reward was seeing so many people eager to sign up to save lives.
“Mate the award itself, that's wonderful, but to see so many people here today with the purple shirt and seeing the growth of a program that Trish and I sat down at the start of 2021 talking about this… that's the real award that I see,” he said.
“We're all here making sure that we don't lose another life in rugby league or we don't lose another life in our community.”
“It's actually really heartwarming to be honest to see so many purple shirts around and see people have the passion that Trish and I had at the start, talking about how awesome it would be to see that at other clubs and at all clubs around the state of Queensland.”
Flier thanked his family for their support going across the region to be there for people in rugby league and hoped his efforts would leave a legacy.
“This is bigger than any grand final, any Mad Monday, anything like that. It's saving lives and at the end of the day, that's bigger than anything.”
Mareeba Junior Rugby League wellbeing officer (6-12yrs) Megan Hendle, who was also part of the Life Fit delivery team for the Cairns-based RISE program this year, was “humbled” to receive her award.
Hendle has been particularly focused on the mini-mod age groups and even developed her own mental health education resource for junior players.
“I think is really important to me because it encompasses three things I'm passionate about, which is rugby league, helping our youth and mental health advocacy. I'm very honoured to say the least,” she said.
With limited mental health services in Mareeba, a one-hour drive west of Cairns, having Hendle as a first port-of-call for players, volunteers and their families is essential, and her daughters Ella, Addison and Harper are the driving force for her to make a difference.
“Just making them proud and showing them I’m giving back is really important. Being there to help others that's what I want to instil in my kids and I want to show them that being kind goes a very long way,” she said.
“Within our club, it's so great because we can get out there and explain the role a little bit better and have a chat to the kids and also the parents. It’s about the whole community of football, but also the individual stuff.
“It's really important to let parents know that we're there to support them just as much as we are there to support their kids.
“Having (QRL mental health telehealth partner) White Cloud is just so amazing because it's just a phone call away. It can take up to six months to see a mental health provider, so we don't want to miss those windows of opportunity to make a difference and help support somebody in the meantime.
“I just feel like for our small community, this role is just going to progress as the years go on.”
Central region winners Dee Irvine and Shayne Ralph were recognised as the brainchild behind a dedicated wellbeing room being established at Caloundra Sharks Junior Rugby League Club, where the door is always open to people who need support.
Irvine, a disability support worker, said realising how much work Shayne put into the wellbeing role at the club inspired her to sign up for Support Squad, and was surprised with the recognition for their combined effort to make mental health support a priority at the Sharks.
“I'm also a manager of the under 16 boys, so things come to me all the time that I reach out to help with, but actually having a course, having a title and having someone to do it with, I think it's been really great,” she said.
Shayne, a social worker, said she hoped their efforts could have a long-lasting impact for young people, who could eventually pay it forward to others in need.
“Kindness doesn't cost a thing and it goes a long way and I think in this day and age, especially with our young people, we need to invest them because they're going to be the ones that are going to carry on their message with the club,” she said.
“We've all got young kids that are coming through and we want them to be able to know that there's support available and there's a safe space that they can go to.
“We've created this amazing room that's got resources and a couch, they can sit and chat and all that sort of stuff in a safe and confident manner.
“Everybody knows where it is, we have the doors open, especially on training nights and we're around in our purple shirts at times, so people see us not just sitting in that room but out and about and having a chat and cheering on other kids and it's not just for the kids, it's the families too."
And the support isn’t just in the medium term – Irvine and Ralph are committed to making sure players and families can lean on them in the off-season with messages whenever needed to guide people to the resources every QRL Support Squad member can provide access to.
The pair thanked the Caloundra Junior Rugby League committee, and particularly former president Leanne Maher, for backing the commitment to wellbeing.
Main image: Support Squad award winners Adam Flier, Dee Irvine, Shayne Ralph and Megan Hendle