Sharon Jennings: keeping sport alive in Katherine, NT

Sharon Jennings.
Sharon Jennings.

It is not unusual for Sharon Jennings to have to cut work early to make netball committee meetings, run to touch training and rally numbers for struggling teams.

She plays on nearly every sporting team in Katherine, and is on just as many committees.

It is this dedication to keeping sport alive in Katherine which won her Young Citizen of the Year, at the Australia Day Awards ceremony late last month.

The 29-year-old is part of a relatively small group of volunteers, players and parents who time and time again put their hands up to sustain the lifeblood of Katherine: Sport.

Born and raised in the small isolated town, she knows all too well the importance of joining a team.

It was what pushed her to put countless hours into reviving a sport on the brink of folding just a couple of years ago.

"I joined the Katherine Rugby Union committee at the beginning of the 2018 season, there was a struggle for players every week.

"Rugby used to involve heaps of players from the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force), and town, we had lots of ages, but people move away, people get busy, and all of a sudden we were struggling to get seven on a side that needs 15.

"There has only ever been a men's competition since I was born, so my idea was to start a women's team.

"The theory was it would create a domino effect. I thought if I could get women involved, their husbands and partners, their friends and their kids would become interested too."

To make it happen, she rallied together as many ladies as possible to learn a quick paced, faster game called Ruby Sevens.

It is a variant of the widely popular Rugby Union, but lasts for just fourteen minutes and needs far fewer players at just seven a side.

She dabbled in the sport for years with four brothers who grew up on it, but took it up seriously as the first women's team emerged onto the scene.

Sharon Jennings dominating on the field against her sister Rosemary Jennings. Picture: Supplied.

Sharon Jennings dominating on the field against her sister Rosemary Jennings. Picture: Supplied.

"At the beginning we needed just 14 girls, we had to teach them tackles, line outs, everything. I already knew how to play growing up in a family where the boys played rugby and the girls played netball.

"And it just grew."

Ms Jennings says she has newcomers requesting to play each week, and for the first time in years team numbers were growing.

Last year, teams from across the Top End battled it out in the second round of the NT Rugby Union's Summer of Sevens on home turf.

It was a significant victory to the small contingent of volunteers working in the background to breathe life back into the sport.

But she doesn't do it for the accolades.

"I notice a difference in town when sport is on, for people who are into it I see connections and support," she said.

"I was completely shocked to find out I was nominated, and to win was an amazing recognition.

"I was sitting in the airport in Singapore with my sister, and when I got a video on our family group chat of my mum accepting the award for me I couldn't believe it."

She was up against eleven-year-old Tait Green, a selfless volunteer and a St John Ambulance cadet, and Lanna Lalim who represented the Northern Territory as an ambassador at the Peace in the Pacific Study Tour in Hawaii and more recently won a spot on the Country to Canberra 'Power Trip' where she will meet inspiring politicians and CEOs.

Ms Lalim also represented her school, St Joseph's Catholic College, at the Curious Minds Project in Canberra, was Dux of her school and also completed the Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Announcing the award, alderman Elisabeth Clark described Ms Jennings as a determined and committed resident, who "gets things done".

Sharon's mother, Josephine Jennings, accepting the award on behalf of her daughter, with the Mayor of Katherine Fay Miller.

Sharon's mother, Josephine Jennings, accepting the award on behalf of her daughter, with the Mayor of Katherine Fay Miller.

"Sharon is a committed Katherine local who goes out of her way to support a thriving sporting community. Aside from her full time job, Sharon spends all of her spare time coordinating training, attending club meetings and advocating for sporting clubs in Katherine," Mrs Clark said.

"As part of her involvement with the Katherine Rugby Union, Sharon started up the women's rugby sevens... she engaged the community, coordinated registrations and insurances to ensure Katherine women's rugby was a legitimate women's sport.

"Sharon volunteered hours of her time to organise a regional rugby sevens tournament, which brought people together from across the region. She is a massive asset to the community, she has so much drive and determination and should be commended for keeping the sporting culture in Katherine alive."

While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox each Friday at 6am from the Katherine Times. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.

This story Sharon Jennings: keeping sport alive in Katherine, NT first appeared on Katherine Times.