Alumni’s Olympian efforts an inspiration

When the Tokyo Olympics officially opens tonight, public schools across the State will be tuned in to watch their former students compete.

23 July 2021
A photo of the Olympic rings on the Tokyo skyline
Image: Public and proud: The Australian team at Tokyo includes more than 60 former students and current staff. Photo: Caroline David.

At least 60 former NSW public high school students are included in the 488-strong team, while teachers and department staff are in key support roles.

Education Department Secretary Georgina Harrisson said it was wonderful to see so many graduates of public education excelling on the world stage.

“Many of these athletes’ names decorate honour boards in schools across the State. The Olympics are exciting enough, but being able to cheer on someone from your own community makes watching the Games even more nerve-wracking.

“My congratulations to all our alumni who are competing and a special shout out to our teachers and staff who are in Tokyo supporting the team to perform at its best.”

Among the most high-profile alumni is former Westfields Sports High School student Dani Stevens (nee Samuels), a world champion discus thrower who is taking on the role of Australian Athletics team co-captain.

The 32-year-old, who is competing at her fourth Olympics, is a previous NSW Combined High Schools Sports Association sporting Blues award recipient.

A woman in athletic singlet.
Image: Athletics co-captain: Former Westfields Sports High School student Dani Stevens (nee Samuels).

Team players

Six former public school students are also members of the Matildas squad, which opened its Olympic medal campaign with a 2-1 win against New Zealand on Wednesday night.

The Matildas alumni are: Kyah Simon and Chloe Logarzo (Hills Sports High School), Courtney Nevin, Alanna Kennedy, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Ellie Carpenter (Westfields Sports High), Caitlin Foord (Illawarra Sports High) and Emily Van Egmond (Warners Bay High).

Westfields Sports High School staff are also supporting the team with teachers Tony Wignell and Tim Massard in the role of head and assistant of strength and conditioning respectively and school counsellor Rob Brown, the team psychologist.

“To see our colleagues working with national teams, on the biggest sporting stage in the world, is simply inspirational,” said principal Andrew Rogers.

“The effort they have put in to deliver outstanding programs at Westfields Sports High School in strength and conditioning and also to support student mental health, while supporting a national team, is a wonderful example us all.”

Hills Sports High sport director Andrew Tetley said the school would also be cheering on former student and Commonwealth Games Gold medallist high jumper Brandon Starc.

"Our Hills Sports alumni who will compete in Tokyo 2020 are not just highly skilled athletes, but high-quality human beings and we are extremely proud of how they represent their country, both on and off the court,” he said.

Mr Rogers at Westfields echoed the sentiment: “We are very proud at Westfields Sports of our former students who have been selected to represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics. Their dedication and drive to succeed is strong motivation to our current students, especially given the challenges they are now facing with remote learning.

“Our current, and former, Olympians have always been supportive of WSHS and have, schedules permitting, maintained a strong connection to the school.

“Their visits, often impromptu, mean the world to our students and staff. It also shows our current students that if they work hard and follow their dreams they too can succeed at the highest levels.”

A woman cropped from the chest up looking straight at the camera and smiling.
Image: Medal chance: Cyclist and Premier's Sporting Challenge ambassador Kaarle McCulloch.

Ambassadors for life

Another Sydney school basking in vicarious sporting glory is Endeavour Sports High, which has former students Kaarle McCulloch in the women's cycling team sprint and Stacey McManus representing Australia in softball.

"Kaarle and Stacey are very proud graduates of Endeavour Sports High School with both returning to the school to give back in various ways," Endeavour Sports High principal James Kozlowski said.

"The entire Endeavour community is excited and proud that two of their own will be representing Australia at the Olympics.

"Both Kaarle and Stacey are wonderful role models for our student athletes and their participation at the Olympics will no doubt inspire our students to dream big."

McCulloch, who also attended Bowral Public and Bowral High, has maintained a strong connection with public school sport as a Premier’s Sporting Challenge Ambassador, a role she shares with fellow Olympian and public school alumni Jessica Fox.

School Sport Unit sports strategy and planning coordinator Darren Lang said Fox had participated in canoeing at the Combined High Schools Sports Association State Championships in 2006 and 2007.

McCulloch also played a range of sports in her primary and secondary school years including touch football, netball, swimming, cross country, triathlon and football.

Since then, Fox and McCulloch have been representatives of the NSW Premier’s Sporting Challenge as ambassadors for healthy active living.

“Jessica and Kaarle are outstanding role models and represent the importance of children and youth engaging in sport and physical activity. The NSW Premier’s Sporting Challenge would like to congratulate Jessica and Kaarle on their selection and wish them both all the best as they look to achieve Olympic glory in Tokyo,” Mr Lang said.

Regional talent shines

Graduates of the State’s regional high schools are well-represented in hockey, with six public school alumni in both the men’s and women’s squads.

Among those are Olympic debutantes Dylan Martin, a former Wagga Wagga High student, Lachlan Sharp, a Lithgow High School graduate and Woonona High School’s Flynn Ogilvie, who has school principal Caroline David, working for the Australian Olympic Committee, on site to cheer him on.

On the NSW Central Tableland, Gulgong High School will celebrate the achievement of former student Michelle Bromley, who is representing Australia in table tennis.

Principal Anna Reynolds said the school was throwing its support behind Bromley and was holding its own Olympics, which will include table tennis among the events, over the two weeks of the Tokyo Games.

“I think it’s always inspiring, but particularly in more remote areas, for students to see someone from their own community succeeding on a world stage,” she said.

In Newcastle, students at Belmont High have used the Olympics and supporting one of their former stars, trampolinist Jessica Pickering, as a learning tool.

Year 10 Japanese students made a video message in Japanese with words of support written on mini whiteboards.

The video was then sent to Pickering via her coach, Belmont High PDHPE teacher Brett Austine, who is in Tokyo supporting the NSWCHSSA Blues winner.

Mr Austine sent a message back to the class saying “Jessica was chuffed” to receive their support.

Official business

Two members of the Department of Education School Sport Unit are also in Tokyo.

James Boyer, Sport and Physical Activity coordinator, and Anthony Moyes, Disability Inclusion Officer, will represent Australia as officials at the basketball and in the rugby sevens.

Mr Boyer is one of two Australian and 30 international referees to be selected to officiate in the basketball.

He has previously also been to the men’s and women’s World Cups and the Commonwealth Games, has refereed Team USA and has also refereed in the NBA Summer League.

Mr Moyes, a world rugby selector for the men’s rugby sevens, will take on the role of Technical Official for rugby sevens.

This is his second Olympics after refereeing at the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he had the honour of officiating as an in-goal judge in the gold medal match between Great Britain and Fiji.

As part of the rugby sevens’ Technical Officials’ team in Tokyo, he will be working with the locally based officials to manage the sideline, including tasks such as the movement of substitutions and injury replacements, timing of any sin bin periods and ensuring that the coaches stay in their designated zones during the matches.

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