Chris Shea has created a Storm - in the Southern Highlands of NSW.
The NSWRL Regional Volunteer of the Year Award winner from the Southern Highlands noticed local clubs were struggling to fill teams and retain players, so armed with a team of like-minded people the Highlands Storm was formed to combine the established resources of the three founding clubs (Bowral, Moss Vale & Robertson).
“This will ensure that Rugby League remains competitive in the area for many years to come,” Jacquelyn Monk, the Southern Highlands Storm executive officer, said after nominating Shea for the award.
“He’s a club person through and through. Chris has not just worked so hard on the club for his family but for the future of Rugby League in the area.”
Last year was the Southern Highlands club’s first season. And they have received excellent support from another famous Storm brand – NRL powerhouses, Melbourne.
“I thought I’d better ask them as we wanted our logo to be similar to theirs,” Chris said.
“And they were happy as – they sent up a signed jersey that we raffled off and put some info about us on their Facebook page. So, they were really supportive and keen to have a presence in NSW.”
Shea moved from Young, where he played for the famous Cherrypickers club, to the Southern Highlands. He put his two sons and a daughter – Oliver, Flynn and Layla - into the Bowral club, which only had about 40 registered players then.
“The other clubs around were all doing their own thing and working against each other so I did up a document and sent it to them all in 2019,” he said.
“I said if we all got together, we’d be as big as Camden.”
The plan worked and the Southern Highlands Storm was formed. Now it has juniors flowing through to seniors and even Masters. Numbers have grown from a combined 160 kids to 242 in 2021.
Other initiatives to get more children involved was a Friday Night In-House Footy competition for young kids, which has translated to them wanting to play in the regular Saturday morning competitions. Shea also started a Masters competition “so the kids could see it was a game for older players too”.
“In doing so he has created a cohesion between Juniors, Seniors and Masters and promotes a ‘one club' vibe,” the nomination statement said.
Shea said his main motivation was to get kids playing sport but like any organisation he ran into some people who said they were “too busy” to volunteer.
“I run a business (refrigeration and air-conditioning contractors) with 25 staff but I find it’s a great reason to knock off work a bit early,” he said.
“If you coach a team you’ve got to be there at 4.30pm because the kids rely on you to be there.
“So, you schedule your time to be with the kids – and some are my own kids too. You get to know them and their parents and you realise you’re working with good people.”
Chris manages the boys Under 15s, and coached Layla’s Under 7s mixed team this year as well.
Despite the long hours with his business, he still finds time to mark the lines, train his teams, and help out wherever else he’s needed.