WHEN St Patrick’s College football first XVIII coach Howard Clark helped out a stranger in hospital more than 20 years ago, he never wanted or expected anything in return.
But a random phone call from Western Australia has provided Clark and his St Patrick’s College students a fantastic chance to train with an AFL great.
Hawthorn premiership player Chance Bateman will join the St Patrick’s football tour to Darwin, where he will mentor the students and accompany them on four days of their nine-day tour.
However, it would not have been possible had Clark not gone out of his way to help that stranger more than two decades ago.
Michael Gibcus, a St Patrick’s Old Boy, was struck down following a spinal injury 22 years ago, ending a promising basketball career.
At the time, Gibcus’ father John asked Clark to meet his son in hospital, given his own history and success in dealing with spinal cancer in the past.
Clark was happy to help in any way he could, sharing his own experiences and explaining to Gibcus that it was not the end of the world.
Over time, Gibcus recovered from his injury and moved to Western Australia to work for a mining company.
For another 22 years, the two fell out of contact – until a phone call earlier this year.
“Mike called me saying he had been reading a copy of Wednesday Warriors (a 2009 book that documented the 2009 St Patrick’s first VXIII season),” Clark said.
“He didn’t know until then that I was the coach and he gave me a call. It came completely out of nowhere.
“I told him about our Northern Territory trip and he thought he could help.”
The result: the offering of Chance Bateman, who works in community relations for Ngarda Civil and Mining, a small mining contractor that aims to provide growth opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Bateman will join the touring party as runner, waterboy, mentor, guest speaker and all-round role model, all as a gift for Clark’s support and kind words while Gibcus was struggling.
“Mike told me he still remembered the words back then, and when he found out I was the coach, (he) wanted to help in any way he could,” Clark said.
“It could be the start of many things between us; they’re seeing what we are as a college and what we do and we share very similar values when it comes to indigenous people.”
The St Patrick’s tour departs tomorrow.
It will involve 63 students, including nine indigenous boys, and will involve a range of cultural activities, as well as football matches against Northern Territory underage representative sides.