League legend inspiring students to succeed

Culturally appropriate programs have positive impacts on student wellbeing. In Reconciliation Week we look at one led by a sporting hero. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Students writing at a desk while a teacher looks on. Students writing at a desk while a teacher looks on.
Image: Greg Inglis with Casino High School students and the artwork gifted to him by student Phoenix Masso.

Many of the students at Casino High School would struggle to remember when Greg Inglis was a weekly fixture in the National Rugby League.

But the teenagers on Bundjalung Country are well aware of his status as a legend of the game.

Around 50 students know Mr Inglis as a mentor who remains invested in their futures as part of his Goanna Academy Mind Ed program.

Casino High Head Teacher Wellbeing Kylie Garrad said Mr Inglis bought more to the students than just a one-off lesson.

“He’s dedicated his time and his experience to the program to come back and talk to our students,” she said.

“It’s definitely a drawcard having somebody with that stature and that reputation.”

Mr Inglis, a Dunghutti man, has visited nine schools in the Northern Rivers five times in recent months to deliver workshops on wellbeing, how to seek help, and coping strategies.

A crucial part of connecting with the students is taking the time to talk about his mental health journey.

He told the Casino students he hit “rock bottom” following an anterior cruciate ligament injury while he was playing league.

“There wouldn’t be no Greg Inglis today if I hadn’t got help, and that’s the honest truth,” he said.

“That’s why I talk about getting the right help at the right time; it’s an ongoing process.”

Phoenix Masso has taken to heart the league star’s message around self-care and setting goals.

Before joining Goanna Academy, the Year 11 student was planning to leave school – now he aims to be the first of his siblings to finish Year 12.

To thank Mr Inglis, the young artist presented him with an artwork depicting a black cockatoo.

“I wanted to give back to him because he’d done a lot for us,” Phoenix said.

“I only started painting a lot at the end of last year, I really enjoy it and it makes me feel relaxed.”

Year 8 student Myleigh Johnson is another who has been inspired and encouraged throughout the Mind Ed program.

“I learned never try to be someone that you’re not, and that was really powerful,” he said.

“We used to sit down just us two and have a chat about anything that’s going on.”

The students have graduated from the program, but mental health advocate Mr Inglis will be keeping in touch.

“It’ll always be an ongoing conversation, checking in with their teachers, checking in with certain individuals and seeing how they’re progressing,” he said.

“I get asked the question: ‘What do you get the most out of? Why didn’t you go back and do league in a coaching role?

“It’s simple: I get more fulfillment out of what I’m doing now.”

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