Four years ago Ed Vickers-Willis was drafted to the North Melbourne Football Club. Not only did he live a childhood dream of playing AFL football, but he uncovered a passion for helping the community through the club’s community arm, The Huddle.
Fast forward to today and Vickers-Willis has been awarded the 2020 Peter Scanlon Community Award, presented to the player who has provided a valuable contribution to the community, and recognises the winner’s strong awareness of the importance of community engagement.
In a year of unprecedented times due to COVID-19, the Kangaroos were relocated to Queensland to play out the remainder of the AFL season.
But this didn’t stop Vickers-Willis, who went above-and-beyond to continue his work in the community. He appeared virtually in several classrooms and recruited 13 teammates to participate in the virtual delivery of education workshops while in the AFL’s Queensland Hub.
He also recorded several videos for students returning to their studies after the initial lock-down and provided support for student’s mental health and wellbeing as well as a voice of encouragement.
“It has been a difficult year for everyone but especially in for those in Melbourne with the lockdowns imposed so I was just happy to play a small part in supporting young people throughout the year,” Vickers-Willis told North Media.
“Being on zoom calls all day for kids is hard, especially when there was limited contact with friends and family.
“We found that we could break up their day a bit with something they could engage with and maybe find a little hope that things would go back to relative normality soon.”
Working closely with The Huddle, Vickers-Willis has become an active member of the Advisory Committee regularly sharing his insights to improve community engagement and player development.
“I’ve been involved with The Huddle for a while now and it has been amazing to see how much it has grown.
“For me, it is not just what impact the players can have in our community but also the impact The Huddle can have on players.
“At a lot of the programs you see the players running around with the kids and teaching them the basics of the game and a lot of the time I think the players are having more fun than the kids.
“The players get to learn about our community but also practice their off-field leadership skills, building meaningful relationships with our fans and community members.”
While not being able to have as strong an impact on the field this year as he would have liked, Vickers-Willis was able to build on his connection with community members and form meaningful relationships with young people in The Huddle’s programs.
“I’ve had a bit of a rough few years with some injuries so while I haven’t been able to make the impact I would have liked to on the field, The Huddle has given me opportunities to have an impact off the field engaging with young people and supporting them on their journeys.
“It is great to be part of a club that is so community minded. The Huddle actively listens to feedback from staff and community members, striving to empower and increase the educational and career outcomes for young people in our community.
“The Huddle continues to innovate and find new ways to engage with the community and in turn this has opened a number doors for players to get involved.”