How the Penrith community is using rugby league to educate young people and fight stereotypes

When a couple of deadly gangland shootings recently took place in western Sydney and headlines were simultaneously ringing junior rugby league matches “amid concerns over gang violence”, two stereotypes converged.

Most important points:

Penrith locals say Rugby League and the Western Suburbs are struggling to break free from a negative reputation.

The NSW Police Department went so far as to issue a statement disproving any connection between a canceled game in Penrith Districts in early May and the biker gang shooting.

Rugby league and the western suburbs are struggling to break free of their undeserved negative reputations, according to those who play the game and live in the region.

Kerby Breust has three sons who grew up playing rugby league. She has volunteered for the past 12 years for the U13 team in which one of her sons plays.

“You know what, it’s a rugby match. Everyone’s here to play; it’s their friendships and friends, and don’t get in trouble, really hang out with a good group of guys who want to be there and have fun,” he said. Brass. The ticket.

Breust spoke on the sidelines of her son’s game over the weekend, extending an invitation to those who hadn’t been to Sydney’s western suburbs or seen a game of kids’ rugby league.

“Come to those suburbs; look, they’re not as bad as you think. Yes, they get a bad reputation for their name… there’s only a handful in those districts, I’d say, that ruin it for some kids. Everyone’s pretty decent.”

Amanda Cooper has volunteered for 15 years and watched the same youth game at Blacktown Workers Stadium. She finds the bad turn sometimes given to the game and the western suburbs unfair.

rugby league

“Sometimes you get a stranger where there could be a problem, but honestly, it’s 99 percent good, one percent bad from what I’ve seen in the last 15 years,” Cooper said, adding that it’s a close-knit community that takes steps When one of them is in need.

“Everyone knows everyone. Everyone probably has a full-time job, and then they volunteer their time on top of that… they jump in, pick up kids, drop off kids, and take care of people’s kids. You’ve got a job. People will often help each other, that sort of thing.”

The panthers are leading the way.

Penrith Districts and Junior Rugby League is the heart of the code in Australia. Nationwide, almost one in ten who play the game is based there.

Penrith District has 25 separate clubs, with 580 teams for under six to senior level.

The Panthers proved to be great role models for Penrith’s children. (Getty Images: Brett Hemmings)

Many juniors are inspired by the NRL team, the Penrith Panthers – currently at the top of the ladder and on track to defend their premiership crown.

The Panthers have overwhelming, homegrown local talent, unlike many professional NRL teams. They are also a big part of the champion NSW State of Origin team.

The club runs the Panthers on the Prowl Foundation, established 15 years ago to provide opportunities and support to school-age children from areas at risk of emotional, social, or physical harm.

Thousands of children have attended workshops, and according to one of the counselors, Brogan Mulhall, the positive results are measurable.

The Penrith Panthers have led the Panthers in the Prowl program. (ABC News: Tracey Holmes)

He says the problems faced by young people in Penrith are no different from those of others their age.

“In terms of the social problems and the problems facing young people in Penrith, they are the same as they would be anywhere else in the state,” Mulhall said.

“There would be quirks around what every community has to deal with, but in general, right now, especially after two years of COVID, we see that it is very difficult for young people to feel connected and involved in school or the community—Wider community or sometimes even within their families.

“We put them through several different programs… they’re about social and emotional competence and creating opportunities where there might not be otherwise.”

Both boys and girls have well attended the Panthers on the Prowl workshops.

Pairing with the PCYC

In the past week, Penrith became the first club to make an NRL commitment to a new program set up with the NSW Police Youth Command to provide youth at risk of anti-social behavior or criminal offenses the opportunity to participate in sports through the police. To do. Citizens Youth Clubs (PCYC).

Other sports like Aussie rules, netball, football, and cricket have joined the Sporting Partnership Industry Program.

At the launch, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said it was an extension of the Fit for Life program, an early intervention program designed to engage at-risk youth nationwide.

“It gets them involved in sports, getting involved in activities at a PCYC and distracting them and offering them something different, possibly a life away from crime.”

Retired rugby legend, now a boxer Sonny Bill Williams, is one of the Athlete Ambassadors, as is united lightweight boxing champion George Kambosos Jr.

“There are a lot of people who work in the community and PCYC who have a vested interest in the children,” Williams said.

“Not just to improve them physically, but to improve them as a person.”

Kambosos said the PCYC has a special place in his heart, given the difference it made in his life.

“I am very proud to say that I started my career with the Rockdale-St George PCYC,” said Kambosos.

“Without that place, I might not have become a world champion because it gave me a home, a place to be every day…and not to be on the street and not get in trouble.”

Stereotypes Not Confirmed by Facts

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR), Penrith and some of the other local government areas often associated with crime in the mainstream media showed no increase in major offenses in the two years to December 2021.

Children from the Panthers on the Prowl workshops share the values most important to them. (ABC News: Tracey Holmes)

Juvenile crime rates were well below historical levels, with the number of juveniles charged by the police significantly lower than any year in the previous decade.

BOSCAR Executive Director Jackie Fitzgerald says it’s impossible to measure “gang-related crime,” but there are crimes that loosely fit gang-related offenses — such as murder, shooting, and insulting juveniles. She says there is no evidence of an increase in such activity based on the most recent data.

“Certain, ly many of them are at an all-time low in NSW,”.Ms. Fitzgerald told The Ticket.

“Regarding the relative crime rate in Penrith, it is slightly higher than the state average.”

Regarding specific crimes, assault in Penrith is about 30 percent higher than the state average, and property crime is slightly higher than the state average.

“But [it’s] certainly not an area with the highest crime concentration, but probably on the wrong side of the state average.

“I’m sure there are local concerns in that area, but we wouldn’t put it at the top of crime communities.”

The internationally recognized criminologist Distinguished Professor Rob White has often spoken of the complexities of defining gangs:

They tend to form in working-class neighborhoods where the economy is difficult, and opportunities are limited… Certain areas have imposed a negative reputation on them, while certain young people have become the target of police attention and slander in the media. So studying gangs is essentially about learning about communities and determining who is connected to whom, how, and why. It is about how masculinity is constructed on the street and how social respect is gained and lost through physicality and violence.

Sport is often seen as an alternative to those who join the wrong crowd and make bad decisions. But how does sport ensure it does not become a toxic environment again?

“The way I see that rugby league is a very healthy host, and this kind of gang and violence floating around the edges is kind of parasitic,” says Panthers on the Prowl’s Brogan Mulhall.

“They feed on people coming together. I can almost guarantee that 99 percent of the problems that arise around those games are not the players, and not the coaches, and not the people involved.”

“The parasites nearby attach to that healthy host to fuel their agenda.

“And their agenda, unfortunately, is really about…a lot of anxious, scared young guys who have grown into anxious, scared young men and feel that the only way they can exercise their manhood, and the only way they can exercise their manhood. Can explore it through violence.”

Parents are also encouraged to keep the game’s spirit in mind. (ABC News: Tracey Holmes)

Mulhall has been working for several years with aid organizations in, among others, the slums of Sao Paulo in Brazil and in Zambia, South Africa.

“One of the main differences there is that the cultural connections are still pretty strong. Things like transition rituals from childhood to adulthood still exist very strongly, culturally.

“One of the biggest things I notice about our guys here is that once they get to that age of independence, they get lost any feel like they need to discover their own identity as all young people dot e, specially guys.

“There’s a real lack of capacity for young people to find out and connect with a wider group of men or other guys to explore what that looks like… what does that transition from boy to adulthood look like?”

“Because of that cultural void in our society, not just Penrith, it’s in many white Australian communities. Things like gangs or social media easily pick up that emptiness, and they’re looking for another way to explore their identities. One of the things we try to do through our work is offer programs that provide that opportunity to connect. Discover what it means to be a quality young man and be a young person with responsibilities and respect for those around you.”

It’s a challenge that Penrith’s rugby league community continues to tackle, often violating the stereotypes and headlines.

Dorothy R. Barrett

I’m a full-time blogger by passion. This is my first blog, and I'm excited to share everything that I love about technology, business, and lifestyle with you. I’m a writer by trade, and I can be found writing about tech, business, and lifestyle on my personal blog.

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