The Edgeworth Arnetts football team started out as a “long shot dream” for Mark Midson, and has blossomed with the help of many hands.
He imagined a team where his disabled sons Bailey, 12, and Fletcher, 10, could play sport alongside friends, form new relationships and remain healthy and active.
Now, a year after the foundation of the Arnetts squad, Midson admitted without a number of people he described as “miracle workers”, he never would have achieved his dream.
“It’s amazing, there are so many people to thank for what we have achieved, and I think without so many beautiful people doing these amazing things I’d still be just staring at a wall,” Midson said.
“When I first started out I wanted to find a place for my sons to get into football, and after hitting a few roadblocks it was actually the Edgeworth Eagles that came forward and offered us funding, and a field to play on.”
Edgeworth, and club president Warren Mills, took up the cause of what would become the Arnetts, pledging the $2,500 made from a friendly against the Newcastle Jets half a year ago to the foundation of the team.
That donation, alongside a $10,000 boost from charity foundation House With No Steps, gave Midson the base he needed to turn his dreams into reality.
In their first season the Arnetts had just two dozen players registered in the team, and just one year later that count has exploded to 56, with many more having to be told they missed the registration deadline.
“It’s disappointing to have to turn people away, but with the amount of volunteers and how we are set up at the moment we’re already reaching our limit with resources just one year in,” Midson said.
“The fact that it’s growing so rapidly definitely shows there’s a community building, to see them all engage with us is so amazing. We saw the value in this program to get parents and kids involved, and we can see what benefits the kids are getting out of having that community around them.”
Midson also said there were a number of options when it came to founding the club, and revealed the Arnetts club was originally in discussions to play on a tennis court area in Awaba.
Although the offer was appreciated as he was looking to found the club and program, Midson felt the club had to be played in association with a football club.
“We couldn’t start off having a kick on a dark tennis court in Awaba, it’s not really what it’s all about,” he said. “I wanted there to be that feeling of playing as part of a team, as part of something bigger.”
“As well as the fact the kids get to play soccer, it’s also just about being apart of this group of people and having a network.
“As much as it’s about the kids, it’s also about the parents of these children that can have a chance to come together, and be accepted at this club.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but to create this group of friends that can all meet, go and do things together and not have people make rude comments about our kids and look at us sideways is so crucial for everyone.”
That’s where the Edgeworth Eagles came into the picture, offering the Arnetts initiative a place to play with a field, community and club support.
Edgeworth’s Mills believes the move to welcome the Arnetts club into the Edgeworth Eagles family was a no-brainer from the sporting club, and that “seeing one of the young kids score for the first time was indescribable”.
“When one of the kids scored a tap-in goal near where I was standing, and they ran over and high-fived me and had this massive smile on their face, I knew we had done the right thing,” Mills said.
“It’s been such a great concept from the word go, and I couldn’t imagine saying ‘no’ when they asked if we could help it all out.”
There was no option but to help Mark and Mel when they came asking, Mills confirmed, and is proud the club can be the foundation of the program.
“It’s 100% the most important thing we can do for these kids,” Mills said. “It’s a great cause and what Mark and Mel do is unbelievable – they’re so committed to it.”
Midson may have been the man with the initial plan, but he is quick to rattle off a series of names that, in his eyes, have “done so much more for the foundation of the Arnetts”.
“All these amazing people have done so much to get the club off the ground, including Kira Gleeson and Michael Sneesby,” Midson said. “Those two approached me after I spoke at a meeting about my plan and they said to me they wanted to be involved in any capacity. They’re basically the team’s coaches.”
Speaking of coaches, Midson also revealed two players in the Edgeworth Eagle’s under 15s squad attend the Arnett’s training sessions, and teach the children as “friends, more than parents or coaches”.
“Ryan Bonett and Tyler Neilsen are two of the best people I have ever met, and these guys are at every training, setting up and teaching the kids,” Midson said. “Those two, and their parents, are two more that have done so much for me, and for all the kids and parents involved.”
Finally, Midson points to a final coach involved in the team – his youngest son Darby, 7, who acts like a “shepherd sorting out his flock” alongside his brothers and friends.
“That little guy has been amazing, he lives in the house and sees Fletcher and Bailey doing all these things, and he just rolls with it,” Midson said.
The future is already bright for the idea and system of Arnetts, but Midson knows there’s room to grow more.
“We have 56 kids registered within Edgeworth Arnetts at the moment, and there’s more than 450 kids involved in special education classrooms in the Hunter,” he said. “We want to get this community expanding.”
“For now we have soccer on the roster, but if we get more volunteers and someone comes forward and says ‘hey look, I think I could help with cricket, or another sport’, then we would love to start expanding out to more things for all the kids to do.
“Even if someone hears about the cause and just decides to give one hour of their time to helping out it helps all the kids, and the parents, so much. Any involvement is amazing.”
If you are interested in becoming involved as a volunteer with the Edgeworth Arnetts, or have ideas about the expansion of sports, contact Mark Midson on 0413085318.