A number of Australia’s most promising young athletes will receive scholarships with six being mentored by some of Australia’s Sport champions as part of a greatly expanded Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program.
A total of 32 young athletes from around the country will receive scholarships as part of this year’s program, which began in 2006 and is now supported by Australian Government funding from Sport Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
Six of those young athletes, all from different sports, will each receive a $10,000 sporting grant and be personally mentored by Australian sporting champions including Olympic gold medallists, national captains and World Cup winners.
Swimmer Susie O’Neill AM, Rugby’s George Gregan AM, Cricket’s Ricky Ponting AO, Beach Volleyball’s Kerri Pottharst OAM, Cyclist Brad McGee OAM and Water Polo’s Debbie Watson OAM have put their hands up to help guide young athletes Josie Baff (NSW, 17, Snowboarding), Ari Gesini (ACT, 17, Para-Athletics), Jed Morgan (QLD, 20, Golf) Marissa Williamson (VIC, 18, Boxing), Oliver Moran (NSW, 18, BMX) and Molly Picklum (NSW, 17, Surfing).
Minister for Youth and Sport Richard Colbeck said the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program symbolised the important inspiration and legacy sport provides.
Minister Colbeck notes “this program is a fantastic example of how our sporting heroes of the past can continue to influence, support and inspire our champions of the future.
“This group of mentors contains combined experience of 11 Olympic Games and 16 Olympic medals, World Cups victories in rugby and cricket, a yellow-jersey leader in the Tour de France. Their active sporting careers are complete, but they continue to contribute to the enduring power of Australian sport by mentoring the next generation. I thank the mentors for your leadership on this program and I wish the young athletes the very best with your sporting ambitions.”
Sport Australia Chair John Wylie said the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program showed the collective power of sport and advises “the best part of this program is seeing mentors and scholarship holders from different sporting backgrounds come together with a shared goal to help the next generation of young elite athletes achieve sporting success.
“Look at how a young Indigenous female boxer like Marissa Williamson has already overcome so much, but can now be mentored by Olympic gold medal beach volleyballer Kerri Pottharst. Nothing comes close to sport as a power to unite us, motivate us and inspire us.”
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program Chair Sue Stanley said more scholarships, worth $5,000 and $2,500, will be announced in coming days and added “the Scholarship and Mentoring Program continues to grow exponentially, and we are so proud to expand this Program to provide six amazing Australian junior athletes access to our SAHOF Members. We are excited to assist these athletes over the next 14 months on their road to success both in life and sport.”
Scholarships would normally be presented at the annual Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Dinner, however, given current restrictions, the Scholarship Holders and Mentors will be meeting virtually until circumstances change.
Six Tier 1 Scholarship Holders
JOSIE BAFF, 17, Jindabyne NSW (pictured top)
Baff is a Jindabyne snowboarder who won Australia’s first gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games this year. It follows a successful 2019, where Baff won the Canadian Junior Nationals and also finished on the podium at the Australian New Zealand Cup and NorAm.
Baff notes “It is so powerful to have access to one-on-one mentoring with Susie O’Neill who is such an incredible and knowledgeable athlete who is going to be able to guide me through not only my sporting career but my life outside of sport as well.”
Mentor Susie O’Neill adds “Josie is such an impressive talent and I am excited to be able to support her in any way I can. It took many years for me to learn everything I did about elite sport and to be able to give even 1 per cent of that back to Josie as a Mentor will be an honour. I’m looking forward to getting to know Josie as a person and athlete and learning from her, especially more about snowboarding.”
Olympic Winter Institute of Australia Chief Executive, Geoff Lipshut commented “It is great news that Josie has been awarded a Tier 1 SAHOF Scholarship. We are so pleased for Josie to have the chance to be mentored by Susie O’Neill. What an opportunity, Susie stands out as one of our greatest sportspeople, is just a super role model, and is an expert in understanding what it takes to perform at the highest level. The recognition and support from SAHOF will be a big part of helping Josie progress from her Gold medal at Youth Olympic Games to the next level in open competition, and ultimately to the 2022 and or 2026 Olympic Games.”
Snow Australia Chief Executive, Michael Kennedy added “It’s a huge honour for Josie to be included in the elite group of young athletes receiving the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship for 2021. Earlier this year Josie showed she is a rising star of the sport when she claimed the first ever Australian gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. Being awarded the SAHOF Scholarship is a nod to that potential and apart from the significant financial support, it comes with a unique opportunity to be mentored by one our nation’s greatest ever athletes in Susie O’Neill. The whole Australian snow community is right behind Josie and are excited for what is coming next in her career.
“We’re grateful to the SAHOF for providing such a tremendous opportunity for Josie, as she continues on her path towards the 2022 Olympics and beyond.”
ARI GESINI, 17, Canberra ACT
Gesini, born with mild cerebral palsy, became one of the youngest athletes to win a medal at the Senior Australian Nationals with his performance in long jump. At 15, Gesini was selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Junior Para Athletics Championships in Switzerland, winning gold in the T38 long jump. At 17, in 2019, Gesini competed for the first time in the Senior World Para Athletics Championships and finished fourth, but set five personal bests along the way. His longest jump – 6.16 metres – now stands as the all-time Oceanic record.
Gesini notes “it came as a big surprise and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this program. The SAHOF scholarship has provided me with a once in lifetime opportunity to talk to a sporting legend, George Gregan, one on one, something I’ll never forget. Over the next 12 months I hope to learn as much as I possibly can from George and to gain new wisdom and skills that will help me for the rest of my life.”
Mentor, George Gregan adds “Ari is an impressive young man who I look forward to working with over the coming year(s). I feel privileged to be able to pass on some of my experiences, that can hopefully help Ari throughout his athletic career.”
Athletics Australia Chief Executive, Darren Gocher commented “Athletics Australia congratulates Ari on receiving this prestigious Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program. Ari is an outstanding young talent who is achieving great things in our sport, already notching up the all-time Australian record men’s T38 long jump of 6.16m at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. To be mentored by George Gregan is an extraordinary honour for any athlete and the athletics community is excited to see where this scholarship and mentor program will lead for Ari.”
OLIVER MORAN, 17, Forster NSW
Moran has been riding BMX bikes for 13 years and is a four-time National Champion. He won the 2019 Cycling Australia BMX Junior Cyclist of the Year award. In his first year in the Junior Elite class, he placed second at the 2019 BMX World Championships and is currently ranked fourth in the UCI Junior Elite ranking.
Moran notes “I was incredibly happy and honoured to find out that I had been chosen as a SAHOF recipient for the 2021 year. Having looked at past winners and seeing how far they have gone in their chosen sport is a real inspiration to make the most of this opportunity given to me. Having access to a mentor who has reached the pinnacle of his career in Brad McGee is exciting and I look forward to hearing his feedback and his experiences in Europe especially.”
Mentor, Brad McGee advises “I look forward to working with Oliver as he progresses along his journey. I will dig deep to draw on and share my experiences. I expect many personal learnings as we dive into the current and future needs of a young high-performance athlete, from regional NSW, ready to take on the world. Go the green gold!”
BMX Australia Chief Executive, Shane Coppin comments “A fantastic achievement for one of our up and coming BMX star’s to be selected as one of six young Australians in the country into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program.
“Oliver has a bright future ahead and to work with an athlete with the experience of Brad McGee will only help Oliver develop as an athlete. Congratulations Oliver, we are excited for what the future will bring.”
JED MORGAN, 20, Wacol QLD
Morgan is a country boy from Hatton Vale, west of Brisbane, and a graduate of Kelvin Grove State College’s Queensland Golf School of Excellence. He is in his fourth year with the Queensland Academy of Sport. In 2020 Morgan became the Australian Amateur champion, winning the medal at the NSW Amateur Championship and then mixing with some of the world’s top pros to be the leading amateur at the Vic Open, a co-sanctioned event with the European Tour.
Morgan notes “to me, this Scholarship is priceless. To be granted the opportunity to have access to someone who has achieved high success is priceless, especially from someone like Ricky. As golf can be such an individual sport, sometimes it’s hard to find answers on how to deal with challenges as you must rely on yourself. I feel Ricky will be able to help me understand myself and my situation a lot better. In turn, this will help me success more in life as a whole and eventually help others.”
Mentor, Ricky Ponting advises “as an elite cricketer, I was always fiercely determined and driven to succeed. As a Mentor, I’m excited to impart this passion for success on Jed and as an avid golfer myself, it’s a privilege to be able to share the course with such an impressively talented young player.”
Golf Australia Chief Executive, James Sutherland comments “this is outstanding news for Jed, who’s been exemplary as both elite competitor and community member.
“We are thrilled, too, that golf has been recognised in such a way by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – this is Jed’s moment, but it’s also a carrot for younger golfers to know their talents can be recognised in the broad church of Australian sport.
“And for Jed to have access to Ricky is icing on the cake; there are few more accomplished athletes than Ricky and with a combination of his international experience and passion for golf, Jed couldn’t have a better mentor and mine of competitive information.”
MOLLY PICKLUM, 17, Terrigal NSW
Winner of the 2020 Australian Surfing Rising Star Award and named Surfing Life’s #1 Junior Female in the ‘Hottest 100 Talent’, Picklum is regarded as Australia’s most exciting young surfing talent. From Shelly Beach NSW, the 17-year-old is making waves both locally and internationally. After a successful period competing on the World Junior Series and winning the 2019 WSL Australia/Oceania Junior Championship, Picklum is now on the WSL Qualifying Series and is poised to qualify for the WSL Championship Tour in the coming years.
Picklum notes “I was so excited to hear that my SAHOF Scholarship Application was successful. Being able to receive one-on-one mentoring from a sporting great, especially someone like Debbie Watson will be so valuable for me at this stage of my career. I feel very lucky to be a Scholarship Recipient and thank the SAHOF team for supporting me on my journey.”
Mentor, Debbie Watson commented “I am excited to be paired with such a motivated young surfer. I am looking forward to mentoring Molly and supporting her throughout her sporting journey. I can’t wait to help her achieve her goals both in and out of the water.”
Surfing Australia Chair & SAHOF Member, Layne Beachley adds “we are so grateful and excited to see one of our up and coming surfers, Molly Picklum paired with one of Australia’s greatest water polo players in Debbie Watson. After a wonderful start to Molly’s 2020 season, being a successful recipient of a Tier 1 Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship will really cap this year off and launch her into 2021.”
MARISSA WILLIAMSON, 18, Seddon VIC
Williamson is a proud Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia. Originally her heart was set on playing AFLW, but that changed at 16 when she began boxing. In her first year of boxing she fought 16 times and became Victorian state and then national champion. Williamson was raised in foster care and at times has dealt with homelessness. She now has a secure home and a full-time labouring job that allows her to support herself and her boxing dream.
Williamson notes “It means the absolute world to me. I have no idea what it takes to go the full way, I am just at the beginning and to be guided by a three-time Olympian (Kerri Pottharst) is crazy to me. This is just another important part of my journey to the top. I am so thankful that some potential was seen in me.”
Mentor, Kerri Pottharst commented “I love that Marissa is setting her sights for the top. It takes courage to put that sort of goal out there. I am really looking forward to standing in Marissa’s corner for as long as she needs me.”
Boxing Australia National Futures Coach, Jamie Pittman adds “I couldn’t be any happier for Marissa, her passion, belief and determination is incredible. The Scholarship with SAHOF is an amazing opportunity and I look forward to watching her grow and develop as an athlete. It’s a privilege for Marissa to have someone of such a high calibre as Kerri Pottharst in her corner.”
Image top: Six Tier 1 Scholarship Holder JOSIE BAFF
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