Dion Devow on Winnunga Warriors education and their basketball family

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Known and respected for his longstanding work with Indigenous communities, Dion Devow had a lightbulb moment watching his children play basketball back in 2014.

While the passion for the game among Indigenous youth is strong, Devow wondered if a central club for players to form a basketball family of their own would be beneficial.

“I thought it might be good to have a club that was based around Aboriginal people and culture but was also inclusive and had reconciliation as a key theme,” Devow recalls.

“Promoting good health, sportsmanship, aboriginal culture and having all these families and kids come together with each other, it was a way to connect and play sport, all those positive things.”

Over the course of the last seven years, the Winnunga Warriors basketball club has steadily grown, with Devow’s vision of creating a friendly hub for kids and their families coming to fruition.

“Initially it was Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders but now it’s about 40 percent of that, so the message has gotten out that it’s for the whole community and a great way to connect with first nations people.”

With a rising number of teams wearing the Warriors uniform from under-10’s right through to senior teams, the importance of getting buckets is rivalled by the aim of educating and communicating. A recent cyber security lesson for young members is just one example of how the Warriors are preparing players for life on and off the court.

“Even though it’s a basketball club we try to educate and expose them to other areas of their lives including education and leadership,” Devow explained. “We want the kids to be happy and healthy and have an opportunity.

“They don’t have to be a gun. We are a small club and more of a family. It’s about being a part of something that is cultural and cool and it’s safe. If we didn’t have these kids playing so much sport they can get into a bit of mischief. It keeps them out of trouble and keeps them fit and focused and gives them something to do.”

In recent times, the club has benefitted from visits from rising Australian basketball stars including Boomers representative Dyson Daniels of the NBA Global Academy based at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence at the AIS. Just 17-years old, Daniels recently poured in 23 points to go along with six steals in his debut for the senior national team’s in their win over New Zealand. Devow heaped praise on Daniels and the boost it gives the Warriors players.

“I think it gives them the idea that they can do the same. It’s nice to see that they could possibly do that if they have the talent and discipline. I think just being around those types of guys, it gives the kids a boost, gives them confidence and brings their skill level up.

“It also validates us as a club. Dyson will always be a part of our Warriors family and our kids really cherish that. He is someone who takes that role and being a part of our family really seriously which is a great thing.”

Despite the Warriors being a major passion, Devow admits the costs of running a growing club can be difficult, with funding largely supported by his own businesses, Darkies Clothing and Yerra.

“We paid for the fees and uniforms for the first two seasons, we don’t do it to that level anymore because it’s not sustainable,” he admits. “We don’t want finances to be a barrier for any of these kids to access the sport or play for the Warriors so we help out at times and generally that will come from those companies.”

“We have had some sponsorships from other businesses and I’m trying to reach out. You don’t want to rely on that but sometimes you have to swallow your pride and say well, we are doing good things and have really established ourselves.”

Beaming with pride while discussing the success of the club to this point, Devow is far from done, and admits further help will be necessary to remain a sustainable entity.

“We do need more help. I don’t mean an injection of funds or monetary sponsorship, that’s good but we are growing exponentially, and we need some more support with coaching and mentoring.

“It’s like growing a business and we are at a point now where we need to pull on resources whether it is sponsorship or manpower, we need the community as a whole to support the club to continue to do the things that we are doing if want to continue to develop.”

Written by Kane Pitman, freelance contributor for Basketball Australia

Images courtesy of Winnunga Warriors Basketball Club