Salary cap rorts, match fixing, supplements scandals, nightclub controversies, on-field slurs…. the list goes on and on.
These are the topics that seem to dominate the daily back pages, the sports news stories at 6.00pm and the talkback callers on the radio. Unfortunately the belief – and maybe the fact is – they sell papers, generate eyeballs and encourage listeners. As a parent of a prodigiously talented young athlete you could rightfully ponder, do I want my child to pursue a professional sporting career? I think many may respond in the negative and what a great shame that would be.
Because the fact is, most professional sporting organisations now provide environments that foster wonderful professional and personal development for their athletes, overseen by the most impressive individuals across the various fields of coaching, sports science, medicine, and welfare. In fact – 99% of the time – the individuals that make up the team lists are very impressive people themselves, who have the traits of dedication, determination, ambition, team orientation and more.
It is within the walls of the ‘club’ or ‘team’ that a family like bond between these people exist, a bond that extends to peers and opponents alike. A genuine, caring support network that was highlighted this week with the courageous announcement that Collingwood’s Alex Fasolo was taking time away from the AFL to deal with a personal mental health issue.
It is timely then, with Sam Harper’s return to the training track for the Victorian Bushrangers pre-season campaign, to respectfully reflect back to a somewhat harrowing time in February. As has been widely reported, Sam suffered a serious head injury when he was accidentally struck on the helmet by the bat of South Australia’s Jake Lehmann while wicketkeeping up to the stumps in the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and South Australia at the Adelaide Oval. The effects of the injury were very severe and saw Sam remain in hospital in Adelaide for close to three weeks in the most trying of circumstances, for not only the Harper family and Sam’s teammates, but also his South Australian opponents.
In the days following the incident, Sam’s father Bryan who remained at his bedside throughout, was the recipient of an overwhelming and unmanageable number of messages, well wishes, and offers of support. All genuine, all heartfelt, all caring and many from ‘within sport’. Perhaps there were none more touching than the messages and thoughts from Lehmann and the people from within the broader South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) community – a story of both food and thought.
For those lucky enough to have played cricket at the Adelaide Oval, they will recall with fondness the lunchtime extravaganza of chicken and plum sauce. It was a reason to celebrate selection for a match in Adelaide; cricket was just the sideshow and this has been the case for over two decades.
While we all know hospitals are the best place to be when we’re not feeling well, they’re not necessarily the best place to be when we’re feeling hungry. An off the cuff and low expectation call to the SACA CEO, Keith Bradshaw, to enquire about getting something a little more appetising on Sam’s – and Bryan’s – dinner plate, led to Keith summoning his ground catering staff for a very special task. At 5.00pm on the dot – delivered by none other than former South Australian wicketkeeper and current General Manager of High-Performance, Tim Neilsen – a very special, best-ever batch of chicken and plum sauce reached Sam’s portable dining table.
I reckon that’s a pretty special – a gesture, fueled by comradery and heart, that shows the special character of people in sport. It’s in the tough times that sport often shines its brightest.