Walking the path of champions

RICHARD Willis had a few words of encouragement and advice for the young sports men and women present at Tuesday’s North West Schools Association 43rd Sportstar Awards at Wests’ Diggers.

One of his main mottos is: “There is no i in team”.

It is a saying that has followed him through his own outstanding playing career and now so meaningfully into his high level coaching.

Willis was an apt invitee as the special guest for the Sportstar Awards.

He won the 1982 North West SSA Sportsman of the Year Award after playing for the Australian Under 21 hockey side.

The list of sportstar winners is an impressive one.

Way back in 1971 Olympian Debbie Wells, the Emmaville Express, won a Sportstar award.

Six years later and Glen Innes’ Robert Simpkins, who went on to play NRL for Western Suburbs (now Wests Tigers) , won two years in a row.

In 1986 Scott Gourley, a dual rugby league rugby union international) was successful and two years later Michael Brial, a Narrabri boy who played rugby for Australia, also starred.

Future Olympians Andrew Curry (javelin) and Craig Miller (water polo) were joint winners and the next year Nathan Thomas, who went on to become the Australian water polo captain and Olympian also grabbed the Sportstar award.

In 1998 Farrer’s Alan Tongue, an Australian Schoolboy rugby league player, who went on to star for Canberra Raiders in a long NRL career was named the Sportstar and four years later another Farrer student, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, who also became a Raider in the NRL, won the award.

In 2006 Oxley High’s Josh Hazlewood was the Sportstar winner and while he won that award largely for his javelin efforts he is now on the cusp of playing Test cricket for 


He was 12th man against South Africa in Perth last week.

Richard Willis said young Josh’s elevation to the Australian Test cricket side was an impressive effort. 

“He has shown great humility, his demeanour has never changed,”  Willis said of Hazlewood.

“But it is the same in every team I have been involved in  – high on the list is the fact there is no i in team. All team members are equal.”

He pointed to the fact another Oxley High student, Kate Jenner, had played for Australia at the London Olympics earlier this year.

“Looking around this room I’m hopeful we might have someone going to Rio in 2016,” he said.

He has been lucky.

In 1982 he also played for the NSW CHS side and toured Queensland. He was leading goalscorer and players’ player on that tour.

“Our coach was Nigel Smith from Farrer. He was an integral part of my hockey development along with Laurie Raper and Barrie Pritchard, my early coaches. I enjoyed my many opportunities to travel with hockey as well, as a player and coach. One of the highlights for me was playing in a NSW Under 21 side when eight of the players were from Tamworth and Ian (Butch) Southwell was the manager.”

These days Willis excels as a coach and has coached NSW sides at Under 15 and 18 level to a number of Australian titles.

He’s also a satellite coach for the NSW Institute of sport and delights in the fact that three or four of the players in the Australian men’s side that won its sixth successive Champions Trophy in Melbourne on Sunday have been recent members of NSW Under 18 sides he’s coached.

Tuesday’s Sportstar Awards found another young champion in Armidale’s Matur Maluach (Drummond Memorial Public School).

Oxley High’s Jessica Aldridge was the Most Outstanding Secondary Athlete. Glen Innes’ Laura Whan was named Services Award winner and Gunnedah High’s Ciara Eveleigh received the Kris Stewart Memorial 


Matur Maluach was also part of the North West primary basketball side that received a President’s Trophy for its State Championship win.

Narrabri High’s boy’s 4x100 relay team also received a President’s Award.

That team – Justin Shaw, Mitchell Barnes, Corey Gold and Guy Gleeson – won a State relay at Homebush.

It was their second successive title after winning as 15-year-olds the year before, albeit with one change.

Dylan Gale had run the year before but “refocused his sporting goals” the quartet said.

Mitchell Barnes stepped in to lead off with great effect while “Big Red” Guy Gleeson (2nd), Corey Gold (third) and Justin Shaw anchored the team.

Justin Shaw said 11.3secs is his personal best for the 100m while the other three are around “12 flat”.

However the Narrabri team will have another change in 2013 with Mitchell Barnes off to the Gold Coast.

“But we have another runner ready to replace him,” Shaw said.

“He’s been training with the team all year.”

There is no i in team reckons Richard Willis, who was special guest at Tuesday’s NW sportstar Awards and presenting the Most Outstanding Secondary Athlete Award to rising javelin star Jessica Aldridge. Photos: Geoff O’Neill 111212GOC03

There is no i in team reckons Richard Willis, who was special guest at Tuesday’s NW sportstar Awards and presenting the Most Outstanding Secondary Athlete Award to rising javelin star Jessica Aldridge. Photos: Geoff O’Neill 111212GOC03