EXCLUSIVE

Ballin' at 'bucca: Local pro back to shoot hoops and build dreams

Rob Linton plays ball with kids from Nambucca Heads Public School. Photo by Kate Battiston
Rob Linton plays ball with kids from Nambucca Heads Public School. Photo by Kate Battiston

The Nambucca Valley might be footy frontier, but according to Rob Linton the kids in Nambucca Heads are all going bonkers for basketball.

The semi-professional player for the North Gold Coast Seahawks returned home to Coffs when COVID ended his season.

"I moved back to build up basketball in the region, with a long-term goal of introducing the game to spots that have never really had it before," he said.

Basketball is having a resurgence in popularity not seen since the '90s, with Sport Australia's 2019 AusPlay survey finding over a million Aussies now play, making it the second-most popular organised team sport in the country behind football.

In the same study it was found that basketball had the highest percentage of participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults compared to the overall population - 5.6 per cent compared to 3.5 per cent.

And it was only last year that Nambucca High's U15 b-ballers headed down to Sydney to compete at State after finishing the best season the school had ever witnessed.

The Lower North Coast champions.

The Lower North Coast champions.

Rob said Nambucca Heads Public School's head of PE Sandy Fenning recently reached out for his help.

"She told me that the kids just go mad for basketball here at the red school. But she wanted my experience to build up skills and knowledge," Rob said.

Photo by Kate Battiston

Photo by Kate Battiston

He's been at the school for four weeks now and the kids are clearly loving it, with the doinks of bouncing basketballs resonating throughout the school.

Next year he has hopes of working with Frank Partridge VC Public and the Nambucca Valley Christian Community School as well.

Photo by Kate Battiston

Photo by Kate Battiston

On top of raising the profile of basketball through school programs like this, he's also keen to spruik for new infrastructure and start Valley-wide competitions - a move which he hopes could open new career pathways for our kids.

"I know how hard it is, coming from a regional area myself. You have to travel so far just to get a game," he said,

"My eyes were opened when I went down to Sydney on a scholarship in Grade 10 - there are just so many more opportunities to play in metro areas.

"I know from conversations I've had with people in schools here that there is a real buzz around basketball already; Matt Rumsey from the high school said they've sometimes got 80 to 90 kids shooting hoops at lunchtime, especially since the courts got an upgrade.

"But sadly there's little infrastructure or competition outside of the school environment for them.

I've been talking to the kids and they say there's nowhere for them to shoot hoops on the weekend.

Two weeks ago he attended a council workshop to identify project proposals which could help stimulate economic development in the shire.

He put forward a $4.5 million proposal to build a two-court stadium at the EJ Biffin Oval in Nambucca.

"And there were parents there with me - their kids were coming home and talking non-stop about basketball after our sessions together. So they stood up and backed me at the meeting," he said.

"There are facilities in other towns. But I think transportation is one of the biggest issues here. So being able to provide something in Nambucca, Bowraville and Macksville is really important.

Maybe we could unite all three communities through basketball, with an association that runs out of all three zones.

It's still early days for that dream though.

Forty-three other proposals were put forward at the same lot of workshops.

And before the idea is fully considered by council, General Manager Michael Coulter said a proper business plan would need to be submitted which detailed things like who would be responsible for the stadium, its ongoing costs and how they would be paid for, and how many people would be expected to use the facility.

Mr Coulter said it might be more feasible to upgrade the existing facilities at the high school.

He said both the Nambucca and Macksville High School stadiums were constructed with help from council funds and it was his understanding that they were to be made available to the community for use.

He said he would "formally ask the principals of both schools about the use of the existing facilities and their availability outside of school hours".

He also said council had plans to build a basketball half court at Bellwood Park during the current financial year.

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