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Grassroots sport declines

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By Jessica Howard

Country football and netball clubs may face the final siren as they struggle with a lack of players and shrinking populations.

In the 2017 season, the Central Highlands Football Netball League will see a number of clubs unable to field teams in both football and netball.

Daylesford will be without an under-18 football team as well as an A and B Grade senior netball teams.

Ballan is struggling to field an under-15 football team and earlier this month, Smythesdale announced their decision to recess their senior side.

In a statement posted on the Smythedale FNCs Facebook on March 7, President David Tuhoy said the decision was due to “a significant drop in senior player numbers”.

“The club does not take this decision lightly and will be doing all it can throughout this season to make sure it does not have a repeat occurrence for season 2018,” he said.

CHFNL President, Eddie Comelli said the decision was disappointing.

“The Central Highlands board is obviously saddened that this is the course that was needed to be taken by Smythesdale, but in saying that, we are very supportive of their actions and in their attempt to keep the club going,” he said.

“Opposing senior teams will receive a bye for the rounds they were scheduled to play Smythesdale and all other grades of football and netball will play as normal”.

Mr Comelli said the changing demographics of country areas made it harder to get teams onto the field.

“A lot of communities within this league have very small populations. Just like primary schools in country areas, the number of people tend to go up and down.

It only takes a couple of families to move out of the area and you find yourself in a bit of trouble. It’s a small community with a constant shift in population”.

Gordon FNC President, Peter Clifford said although the numbers were dwindling, the league was still strong.

“One thing that makes CHFNL such a strong league is our crowds, which are in excess of anything seen in Ballarat. The reason for this is we play all of our junior and senior teams in both netball and football on the one day. It’s one attraction, so everyone is there together,” he said.

“Obviously with a league like CHFNL, there’s quite a bit of travelling and that can have a bit of an impact on the players, but some of the more distant clubs are the ones that still do have the numbers so I’m not sure that that is such an issue here.

“Footy and netball is important in these sort of small country towns because it’s local. Most areas aren’t big enough to have an indoor basketball stadium or anything like that, but you can put kids on an oval and it is good for them. They learn how to work in a team and they learn to win and they learn to lose, it’s about understanding that not everything in life goes to plan”.