Creating a ‘beacon for sport’

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By Steph McNicol

Wallan Panthers Basketball Club president Gary O’Brien is hoping the ‘beacon for sport’ environment at the club will inspire even more aspiring basketballers.

During his time as president, Mr O’Brien has seen changes take place that have developed the Panthers into ‘a destination club’.

“We have this unique offering where we can allow kids to play country championships, which are town versus town, as well as play every Friday night in representative basketball,” he said.

“The club has progressed to what is now a beacon of sport for the area, somewhere kids can aspire to play – they can get picked for the NBL from what we’re offering.”

Wallan Panthers have recruited players like Hayden Annett, who played for the University of Charleston, to bring experience to the roster.

Mr O’Brien spoke about the progression of the club and said it had grown massively over the years.

“When I first got here it was just a bunch of kids, around 120, playing in singlets with numbers,” he said.

“There were a number of us here that were just serious basketball brains, we just loved the game.

“We made a decision that we were going to try and do something with it, so this has been a long build from there.”

The club committee decided the key to becoming a destination club was becoming affiliated with Big V – Victoria’s semi-professional basketball league.

“We needed a Big V team for that, but it’s expensive and we had to make sure we had a good business model for that,” Mr O’Brien said.

“You had to also show the growth and the commitment from the community, so we had a
letter from the council that went with our application.”

Mr O’Brien said the progression of the club was important in developing women’s and girls’ teams.

“For boys, we can go from Kindy Ball to Senior Men, which is enormous,” he said.

“For women, we’ve never had that. So what we chose to do was enter a women’s Big V team, knowing we didn’t have the juniors coming through.

“We made a commitment to Big V that we would build the under 16s and under 18s so we’ve had to really work hard on building that.”

Mr O’Brien said the club needed a bigger stadium to develop further and increase the opportunities the club could provide.

“Now that things are that serious, we need the help. We need to find a major sponsor, someone who wants to back our club, and we need more facilities,” he said.

“I’m hoping they’ll build us a new stadium soon. We’re out of space here.”

Mr O’Brien said he wanted the community to know about the significant changes that had been made and wanted the club to be taken more seriously.

“We are a country town competing with the big boys, and we can’t do that with three courts and no sponsorship,” he said.

“I want Big V to see that we’ve grown up and applied more discipline to improve the behaviour at our club.”