Netball has long been a key part of Marilla Chant’s life, the 62-year-old engrained in the Netball Victoria and Melbourne Vixens family for close to two decades. After countless games and hours of hard work, her commitment was recognised at this year’s Sharelle McMahon Medal, crowned Volunteer of the Year in a moment Marilla still can’t believe.
“It was absolutely surreal. I was joking and laughing when they brought up that there was going be Volunteer of the Year - I'm joking going, ‘oh, well that will be me for sure’. And we were just laughing our heads off,” she said.
“Never for a moment did I actually think it was going to be me, so when Clint [Stanaway] said my name, I got quite a shock. It was a lovely surprise, very much appreciated, although had I known I would've spent more time on the hair and makeup,” Marilla chuckled.
Marilla’s passion for the sport started when she was a youngster, supporting the Melbourne Phoenix and of course playing netball.
“I love netball, always have. I love playing it, I love watching it, love attending it. I played up until I was 56, until my ankle just wouldn't stand it anymore. I would love to still be playing now, even at 62 if I could, but unfortunately not. I've always gone to lots of games,” she said.
Marilla’s initiative and desire to be involved in the sport at the elite level started back with the ANZ Championship in 2008, actively sourcing opportunities to volunteer and help with the delivery of games.
“The volunteering started when they had the ANZ Championship. First thing I did when I saw that ANZ was sponsoring it, was get in touch with marketing and say ‘right, do you need volunteers? Can I do anything? Can I be involved in some way?’,” she recounted.
“Obviously through that I met people from Netball Victoria, like Jenny Doll. She helped me get in contact with people so that I did other things for Netball Australia. I did two years of Fast5 driving the England team. I've done international matches and I've done country matches. Once ANZ lost the gig, I was straight on to Netball Vic, to see whether I could volunteer directly.”
Testament to her commitment, Marilla has only missed two games throughout her time as a volunteer - one for a wedding and the other from ankle surgery. However, the injury didn’t keep her down for long.
“The week after my surgery, I was there on crutches,” she said.
Although the crutches may have impeded her game day duties, it’s fair to say that there’s no such thing as a typical game day for Marilla, who finds herself taking on a different job each week.
“I’m always excited, always ridiculously early. Sometimes I know what I'm going to do, sometimes it changes when I get there, but I'm happy just to be there and to do anything that I can,” she said.
“I might be handing out posters or I might be looking after activations. I've done the Lair, I've done the Cubs Corner. I've done a bit of everything with the volunteering, that's for sure.”
Marilla has become part of the furniture at all Melbourne Vixens home games and when asked what it is that draws her to the club, the answer was plain and simple - it was the Vixens and her love for the game.
“I love the amazing players that have come through the Victorian system and particularly the Vixens system. I mean, we've got some of the best goalers, defenders, midcourters. The fact that there's so many Victorian players playing in the other states as well, just goes to show how good it is here, from grassroots all the way through.”
With this year’s season done and dusted, Marilla already has her sights on 2023 and what the next year looks like for her.
“I’ll volunteer until I can't do it. I’m absolutely thrilled to be involved and am always pleased to be there. The volunteers are so well treated by Netball Victoria, we always feel special, so it's really good,” she said.
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