Storming through: Chris Meyer gets the ball out of defence for Jeparit-Rainbow against Kalkee. Photo: SuppliedFollow the Age Sport on Twitter
Around 12 months ago, a sense of pessimism surrounded the Jeparit-Rainbow football-netball club.
The club’s committee was convinced that its playing stocks would be gutted if it was not allowed to transfer from the Mallee league to the Horsham District league for the 2015 season.
But hopes for such a move had been dashed by AFL Wimmera Mallee’s decision to freeze the movement of clubs until a review of football in the region was handed down (the full report is due later this year).
“It was looking pretty dire, to be honest,” recalled Jeparit-Rainbow’s fourth-year president Brett Fisher.
The reason that Jeparit-Rainbow wanted to change leagues was simple. Many of its players are based in and around Horsham and Nhill, which are south of Jeparit and Rainbow. Yet the club was the southernmost member of the Mallee league. When it played in Underbool, for example, its contingent of Horsham-based players faced a trek of 220 kilometres.
“It had got to a tipping point where the guys had been travelling north for so long that they were sick of it,” Fisher said.
Jeparit-Rainbow’s committee had been pushing hard for a transfer to the Horsham District league for a number of months prior to the freeze. They believed it was important to be pro-active and make the move before their club was on its knees.
Indeed, Fisher, a farmer based just north of Rainbow, was drawing on first-hand knowledge of how tough it can be to keep a struggling club alive. He played around 100 games for Yaapeet in the 1990s, and was still involved with the Purples when they finally ran out of players and folded following the 1999 season.
Fisher and his helpers eventually decided they had no option but to lodge an appeal against the freeze on the movement of clubs.
“We could’ve lost up to 17 players from our senior side, and we definitely wouldn’t have been able to field a twos side, if we had to stay in the Mallee league,” Fisher said.
In mid-November, AFL Wimmera Mallee relented and allowed Jeparit-Rainbow to exit the MFL on compassionate grounds.
“It would have been embarrassing for the Mallee league, I reckon, to keep us up there with only one senior side,” Fisher said. “And it would have been embarrassing for us.”
After the move was finalised, the mood at Jeparit-Rainbow turned around straight away. The club needed to change its identity, and its members wholeheartedly embraced the challenge.
In early February, the Jeparit-Rainbow Lakers (the old nickname stemmed from Jeparit and Rainbow being at either end of Lake Hindmarsh) were relaunched as the JR Storm.
The Western Bulldogs-style strip the club had worn in the Mallee league was cast aside and replaced with a custom-designed light green, white and charcoal number, replete with a lightning bolt down the middle.
“The committee chose the jumper design, then we gave the members a choice between green or purple being the predominant colour,” Fisher said. “We were looking for something totally different, so we wouldn’t have to change it again.
“There were 69 votes for green and 68 for purple. I wasn’t sure about the green myself, but I reckon the jumpers have come up well. I think having a new name and new jumper has given the club a fresh start, which we needed.”
When the season began, Jeparit-Rainbow’s senior side initially found the going tough.
The Storm went down to Horsham District league powerhouse Kalkee by 11 points in round one, and they were then beaten by Taylors Lake in round two.
But the team has been steadily improving since breaking through and defeating Pimpinio in round three. Last weekend, Jeparit-Rainbow stamped itself as a finals contender by edging out perennial heavyweight Harrow-Balmoral.
“It’s taken us a while to find our legs,” Fisher said. “But we’re heading towards getting our full side on the park, and we’ve really started to come good.”
Jeparit-Rainbow’s reserves and under-17s have found the going tougher. Both were in the bottom two on the ladder prior to Saturday’s away matches against Kalkee.
Nevertheless, things are very bright off the field. “By going south, we’ve got more members, more supporters at games and more volunteers than we’ve had for five or six years, which is making life for everyone on the committee a lot easier,” Fisher said. “And we seem to have an abundance of players.”
Like all clubs based in towns with declining populations, Jeparit-Rainbow will face plenty more challenges in the coming years. But 12 months after it was mired in pessimism, Fisher is adamant that the club’s outlook is now bright.
“We’ve gone from things looking pretty bleak, and wondering how we’re going to survive, to planning for the future,” he said.
* The towns of Jeparit and Rainbow have a combined population of around 1200.
* Australia’s longest-serving prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was born in Jeparit.
* Jeparit-Rainbow’s senior side won the first Mallee league premiership in 1997, but didn’t make another grand final in that competition. The Age SportThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.