My all-time favourite sports journalist has a round-up of the best sporting moments of 2004 in his column ‘The Fitz Files’, in the Sydney Morning Herald, and his vote for sportsperson of the year is rationalised thus:
TFF first heard of him in March, when one of our spies reported being in Newcastle to see the Roosters vs Knights game, when he noticed in the half-time mini-game between a couple of under-8 teams that one of the young players had physical disabilities, probably cerebral palsy. “But there he was, running around having the time of his life,” our spy reported. “That’s just great,” you might say, and it is, but what’s more significant is the way the members of his own side and that of the opposition treated this courageous little bloke. In just about every set of six his team had the ball it was passed to him to have a run. The opposition, obviously aware that he couldn’t genuinely compete on an even playing field and in the true spirit of what junior sport should be about, of course tackled him, but in a manner that was certain not to inflict any harm on our man. On one occasion, he even managed to off-load a ball to a teammate who picked the ball up and scored a try. The crowd loved it and he received warm applause from both his own team and that of the opposition.
Intrigued, TFF found out more about him. His name, as it turned out, is Harry Rodgers – referred to as “H” by his teammates – and he played for the mighty Kotara Bears junior side in the under-9s. I was advised by his coach that Harry has a condition known as amyoplasia, which affects the joints and muscles and in Harry’s case means he wears splints on his legs and has had to adapt as best he can with minimal use of his hands. When playing football, Harry catches and passes with his elbows and the cooperation of other teams has been fantastic. They allow the coach to go onto the field when Harry is playing, because when he has been tackled he needs some help getting to his feet. It also turned out that one of the avowed ambitions of his teammates this year, beyond winning the best they can, was to get Harry over the try line or bust. Alas, with 30 seconds to go in the final game of the season, against a strong Wests team, that ambition had remained unfulfilled. And yet …
And yet, then the ball came to our Harry, on the left side of the field, about 30 metres out. There was still a chance! With all his teammates forming a kind of protective cocoon around him, the whole team charged for the line with Harry in the middle. The young lads of Wests – playing with exactly the right spirit and aware of the significance of the moment – did their more or less best to break through the cocoon, but one way or another Harry crashed over the line for a wonderful TRY!, and was immediately awash in the exhilaration of both teams. And still he wasn’t done. As the final bell sounded, it was Harry who, having practised his kicking all week, lined up the conversion … GOAAAL! He was carried from the field on the shoulders of his teammates, and taken to the cheering crowd and the embrace of his tearful mother. So Harry Rodgers, you are TFF’s sportsperson of the year, having inspired more TFF readers than any other sportsperson appearing in these pages. We dips our lids.
On ya, Harry, Kotara Bears, Wests and the whole Newcastle junior comp.
A safe and peaceful new year to all of you.