When the female friend of Leya Wilson’s teenage son elected to join a club other than her beloved Charlestown Junior Cricket Club because she wanted to play with other girls, the mother of two drew a line in the sand.
At the time, Charlestown was distinctly lacking young female players, and those that did take to the crease were forced to play with the boys’ teams.
That moment led to a chain of selfless actions and initiatives led by Wilson that have helped her, Charlestown JCC and the Newcastle Junior Cricket Association to on Thursday night be awarded the Women & Girls Initiative of the Year at the prestigious Cricket Australia 2021 Community Awards.
“One of my son’s friends, a girl, wanted to play cricket but she didn’t want to play with the boys – she wanted to play with girls, which is understandable so she went to another club,” Wilson said.
“That was the motivator for me to start driving the girl’s program. To get young girls into the club we needed to get all girl’s teams. Then we needed to ensure there were all girl’s competitions. One thing has led to another.”
That one moment, when Wilson, whose teenage daughter has now also begun playing, has led to Charlestown taking their girl’s involvement from just one team in 2019/20 to six teams in 2020/2021.
But Wilson didn’t stop there and has focussed on the big picture goal of growing girl’s participation across the Hunter region, not just at her own club.
She has taken on a voluntary leadership role within the Newcastle Junior Cricket Association and is working with all local clubs to achieve this goal, generously sharing her time, insights and placing girls with clubs in their local area when enquiries are received through the girl’s sub-committee that she also set up.
That sub-committee instigated an off-season survey to all female players in the NJCA and the results were considered and implemented, leading to tremendous growth in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie region.
Competitions in the NJCA increased to a remarkable 28 teams in season 20/21, a growth of 216% (13 teams in season 19/20). Last summer 26 teams competed in all-girls leagues, and two all-girls teams played in standard under 12 competition.
Along with that big picture achievement, Wilson has helped her club obtain several grants that will help the safe growth of the girl’s game, formed relationships between her club and high schools in the area, run girl’s festival days and created competitions that offered more than one standard of girl’s leagues.
There’s been an incredible amount of work, dedication and effort from Wilson, whose husband is also the president of their club, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do it because I know how important sport is, especially for teenage girls,” Wilson said.
“What sport can do for teenage girls, amongst many things, and there’s plenty of research on this, is provide a connection with a social group. One of the things with cricket is the social connection and what it brings to their life.
“Watching the enjoyment the girls and their parents get from cricket is very rewarding. Watching the girls connect and enjoy this together, especially for those that have come and joined up to play on their own, it’s priceless.”
Wilson humbly ventures that she may even benefit from her community work more than the players.
“The girl’s in the programs get plenty out of it but I probably get a little more,” she said.
“Having said that, the friendships that these girls have formed and the confidence they have gained is just awesome. They are different ages and they have all these new connections.
“Watching that develop after just a year is just amazing – their skills, their love for the game and their connection with each other.”
And Wilson has a simple message to other parents and carers.
“Just get along to a game and watch what the kids get out of it - you can’t help but want to be involved,” Wilson said.
“We have had a couple of dads that perhaps reluctantly coached their daughters, but then just fell in love with it, and were the ones always emailing about doing more.
“It’s very rewarding, especially with the girls.”