They’re swarming in. One minute there’s nary a soul at Appin Park ; half an hour later the place is teeming. And they’re all shapes and sizes, Kids, clad in the black and teal green tops of the local Little Aths club range in age from five to early teens.
It’s Friday night. Welcome to Wangaratta’s athletics nursery.
Half your luck if you’re a new-arrival, trying to identify one of yours amidst the 220-odd kids who are competing in a number of disciplines.
The couple of hundred parents (and grandparents) are either trackside, intently urging on one of their brood………..or nonchalantly chatting on the bank, completely oblivious to all of the action.
You cast your eye over the kids that flash by and note that some are naturals, and have the style and technique to be champs of the future, should they persist. Others who trail the leaders by lengths, push on. They’re not blessed with sporting genes, but that’s okay, you admire their doggedness and willingness to compete.
It’s a non-stop maelstrom of running and jumping……….Somebody said it’s organised chaos ! I reckon they do a good job to get through the events in the allotted time……..
Somewhere in there, the Club’s three Training and Education coaches are going about their business. To have people of their calibre volunteering their time primarily because they just love coaching and helping kids, is the epitome’ of what sport’s all about. It’s worth jotting down their credentials:
# In her 13 trips to the time-honoured Stawell Athletic Carnival, Anna Pasquali has finished runner-up three times in the women’s 400m. She was close to Australian selection as a junior middle-distance runner and just missed out on a Commonwealth Games relay squad. In recent years she has played her part in re-invigorating the Wang. Carnival, by attempting to get more kids involved in events.
# Peter Hoggan was the ninth-ranked Australian high-jumper, behind Tim Forsyth, in 1999/2000. He returned from the 2000 Australian Youth Olympics with Gold Medals from the U.17 400m and 4 x 400m relay. His performances in the National All-Schools titles qualified him for the 2002 World Juniors in Jamaica.
# Bree Spasojevic competed with considerable success in a string of State under-age championships, held several state records and was part of a Victorian team which won Silver at the National Little Athletics titles in Adelaide .
Competing as a 14-year-old at the Australian All-Schools championships in 1993, she obtained Gold in the U.17 4 x 400m , and Bronze in the U15 4 x 100m relays..
Two years later, again at the National ‘All-Schools’ , she won individual Bronze in the U.17 100m Hurdles and another bronze in the 4 x 400 U.17 relay .
My memory is of young Bree cleaning up in a number of North-East and Riverina events during the nineties. I catch up with her, and quiz her on what has, these days, become a heavy coaching schedule. She explains simply:
“I just want to re-pay athletics for all the good times that I had. I love teaching and it gives me a real thrill to see kids striving to improve themselves “.
“Hopefully I can pass on some of the values and lessons that I’ve learnt. If the kids get this message, then I’ve succeeded. To me, everyone’s journey in life is special.”
The world of track and field was a key component of her life, from the age of 7, until she headed off to Melbourne to undertake her university degree. Even when she was competing, she harboured a fascination for the art of coaching.
She was invited to partake in Debbie Flintoff-King’s Talent Squad, both as an athlete and coach, and attended a week-long session at the AIS through Debbie’s program in 1994.
You detect her deep admiration for the Olympic champ. They have remained firm friends. It was also through the DKF ‘Olympic Gold’ Camps that she met Echuca-based coach Russell Parsons, who had a profound influence on her. The two remain in close contact twenty years on.
She adheres to the Parsons coaching mantra that……”You can be an outstanding athlete for a few exciting years, but it’s more important to be an outstanding person for the rest of your life.”
Bree graduated from RMIT Bundoora in 2002, with a distinction as a Bachelor of Applied Science (Physical Education), and returned to her old school, Wangaratta High, as a teacher.
The sky was the limit. Now she’d able to live out her dream.
She was teaching junior and middle school Phys.Ed and thrived on the interaction with the kids in the two years she spent in the role. But other aspects of the job got to her and she was flattened by a succession of health issues.
Bree would be the first to admit that, when she was at a low ebb, the thought of throwing herself into sporting groups and imparting her knowledge sometime in the future, seemed incongruous.
But that’s what happened. Firstly it was coaching netball, with Glenrowan, then the Rovers, where she used her background in fitness, agility and speed enhancement to good effect.
She resumed her association with Little Aths in 2011. Since 2012 she has coached her own junior development squad – youngsters whose parents have asked her to oversee their progress. They meet twice weekly, in preparation for events at regional, state and national level.
So Bree’s full-on week comprises training on Tuesday and Thursday, then taking the relay teams for training for about an hour on Friday, before Little Aths gets into full swing.
Additionally, her Netball coaching commitments each Wednesday night will resume early in the New Year
A couple of years ago, her good friend Russell Parsons invited her to accompany a coaching group to the Southern Indian city of Kottayam. He had been making regular visits, to the Pallikoodam school, where he supervised an athletics and swimming program.
It was intensive stuff, and Bree took over the athletics side of things.
“It was a memorable trip,” she recalls. “It gave me a greater appreciation of life, meeting such, beautiful, caring, focused, dedicated and friendly people. They’re thankful for what they have – even if they don’t have much.”
In recent weeks, some of her group have competed at State level in both Primary and Secondary level, with considerable success.
Bree has plenty of fans and I met one with plenty of sporting experience, who was only too keen to pump her up:
“She’s got a sound technical knowledge and has had the experience at a high level to back it up. And she can put herself in the youngsters shoes. Bree’s got the knack of letting the kids be kids – and she makes sure they enjoy themselves.”
“I’ve seen a few who weren’t doing anything much when they first came to her, but because she made it fun for them, they improved. She focuses on them trying to better their PB’s, more so than winning events. The results are there to see.”
” I admire the passion she displays, and the energy she puts into her coaching. It’s obvious that she gets as much out of it as the kids.”
Her working days are spent at Treat’s Coffee Shop and, with her coaching commitments, it doesn’t leave much spare time for Bree Spasojevic.
But that’s the way she likes it………..