Benalla Sportstar: Meet our judges

By Meg Saultry

With 33 local sportspeople nominated across eight different categories, the Benalla Ensign tasked the collective brains trust of Bill Sykes, Bernie Hearn, and Darren Skelton in determining the 2019/20 Benalla Sportstar Award winners.

The Ensign’s Meg Saultry spoke to the three local personalities about their judging process, what they looked for among nominees, and their thoughts on our sporting talent within the region.

“A couple of things I kept in mind when reading (about the nominees) were their achievements and what they strived for,” Hearn said.

“Do they compete internationally, locally, do they step up and out of their comfort zones?

“Are you a big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? And, their competitiveness.”

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Skelton agreed while it fundamentally came down to achievement, a person’s disposition to give back to their chosen sport was also taken into account.

I looked at their achievements, but also their ability to be great ambassadors for the community,” Skelton said.

“That really shone through, the amount of incredible young sportstars doing great things.”

Sykes and Hearn agreed winners had to be great role models in their sport and community.

“It’s nice to hear if they are giving back to their sport,” Hearn said.

“You can be the best of the best, but if you’re not giving back in some way, I don’t like that.”

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Sykes said the three judges used their collective knowledge of different sports in the community to their advantage, with Sykes a former VFL footballer, Hearn heavily involved in netball, basketball and equestrian over the years, while Skelton is a past football player and junior sport administrator for over 15 years.

“We pooled our knowledge, and our strengths and weaknesses were complementary,” Sykes said.

“There were a number of close calls to be made.”

Two considerations that needed to be made were weighing up the time period of a nominee’s achievements, as well as the differing natures of each sport.

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“We tended to take the last few years into account with an emphasis on the last 12 months,” Sykes said.

After finalising winners in each category, the central thing the judges came to a state of agreement on was the level of sporting talent in the area.

“For a small community, the number of high achievers we continue to produce is fantastic,” Sykes said.

“And for many of them that involves many kilometres of travel to compete, which is something city kids don’t have to worry about. So, they are technically starting behind.”

Skelton said the wide range of sports represented among nominees also impressed the judges.

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“I’m always really pleased to see the level of achievement of local athletes and to see the breadth of sport young people are performing really strong in,” he said.

And while Benalla has many sports stars striving to achieve great things in their sport, it is also the everyday player that makes Benalla’s sport scene a thriving feature of the Rural City.

Hearn said sport was a way of life for many in the community, young and old.

“It’s not only for people’s participation and fitness, but it also opens up friendship groups and gets you off the couch,” she said.

As for how Benalla’s sports stars can move forward with their sporting careers, Sykes had some sage advice.

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“What I learnt (when playing VFL) was you have to recognise your strengths and weakness, then build on your strengths and cover your weaknesses,” he said.

“And for the kids coming through, pursue your dream; give it your best shot and don’t die wondering. That’s my philosophy on life and sport.”

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