A lasting legacy of hope

Jack Armour (pictured), along with Sam Batson, was instrumental in the Western Park Cricket Club rallying behind the CMYSF cause.

“We can’t change the past, but we’re certainly more mindful of the future”.

Zvonko Maric will always have his young son, Corey, in his heart.

The popular Warragul youngster was just 15 when he suddenly passed away in May last year after facing his own mental health battles.

It left the Maric family heartbroken, but through their unimaginable pain they formed the Corey Maric Youth Support Foundation (CMYSF) – a registered mental health charity, which aims to promote suicide prevention and self-harm prevention in young people in regional areas where mental health services are limited, or more difficult to access.

Corey was a beloved figure throughout Warragul and the surrounding area – through his wide network of mates, and his involvement in the local school and sporting communities.

“He was into everything – he played footy, tennis, he was in school productions and gymnastics clubs – you name it. He had a real passion for life, and no one had a bad word to say about him,” Zvonko said.

Corey’s passing left a devastating impact, but through the darkness has shone a light – one of hope, love, and acceptance that has spurred the Maric family on to honour him the best way they know how.

“The Warragul footy club, the Western Park Cricket Club, and so many other people and community groups have gone out of their way to help raise money for the charity, and we’re just so heartened by that,” Zvonko said for this week’s instalment of the Gazette’s ‘It’s more than a game’ series.

“It shows us that there are so many people out there who care.”

The community’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the mental health challenges already faced by so many. In some instances, it’s magnified them.

But it’s also served as a very real reminder of how intertwined local residents are in that fight – that, together, supporting one another, they can move forward as one.

Maintaining that connection is key, as is the realisation that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social distancing.

When Corey passed, the Maric family was asked if there were any charities they’d like to donate to in his name.

And that’s where the concept of forming an organisation specifically for mental health awareness and self-harm prevention in young people in regional areas was formed.

“I think the thing that’s emerged for me is that your mental health can change so rapidly, and particularly with young people when it comes to their different stages of development,” Zvonko said.

Not only was the Western Park Cricket Club community profoundly touched by Corey’s passing, it also experienced the tragic loss of John-Paul ‘JP’ D’Amico earlier this year.

Western Park WDCA star, Sam Batson. 198936 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

And the Warriors felt compelled to step forward to make a difference – through two incredibly impressive young leaders in their own right, the club’s player-coach Sam Batson and new recruit Jack Armour, who’re both still in their early 20s.

“We, as a club, had spoken about the need to start being proactive in this space, through either resources for players, or fundraising,” Sam explained.

“Jack pioneered it all, which was great considering he hasn’t even played a game for us yet.

“Once he brought it up, it was a no-brainer, given Corey played with a lot our young fellas at Warragul (Football Club), and the group of guys my age have known Aidan well for over a decade.”

During the next WDCA cricket season, Jack and Sam – along with Zane Harper, Harry Wans, Chris Wettenhall, and Sam’s father Jason – will donate money out of their own pockets to the Corey Maric Youth Support Foundation for every run they score, wicket they take, or catch they claim (in addition to a number of other milestones).

“We will look to get these amounts matched by family, friends or businesses,” Jack explained.

“For example, this could result in for every wicket Harry Wans takes, he donates $10, himself, but this could end up being a $40 donation per wicket if he were to have three people matching his efforts.

“Flat donations are always welcome too, and we have already had around $300 come in – as well as some friends and family agreeing to back participating players’ donation efforts.”

Jack said the proactive mental health conversations sparked by the CMYSF are vitally important for the local community.

“Hopefully people realise that the people around them are there to support them,” he said.

“Western Park seems to have a very open mindset regarding mental health issues, and perhaps breaking the idea that men must suppress their feelings.

“Mental health is spoken about regularly, players are addressed, and through the added support we can now offer and normalise through the CMYSF, I feel like we can offer a conclusive player support package.

“It shows us that there are so many people out there who care.” – COREY MARIC’S FATHER, Zvonko

“The tragedy last year perhaps opened eyes to the fact that mental health issues and loss can really affect anyone.

“We have a lot of juniors at Western Park who played sport alongside, went to school with, or just knew Corey.

“This made it an obvious choice to support (the CMYSF).

“Since May last year, the efforts by (Corey’s parents) Zvonko and Kate, Alisha (his sister), and Aidan (his brother) to get the foundation set up, and to be already able to extend help and support to the local community, is a testament to them.”

Jonathan Allen, a close friend of the Maric family, also assisted greatly in helping to set up the CMYSF.

Aidan is Corey’s older brother, and the two shared an incredibly tight bond.

A past player at Western Park, he was initially contacted by Jack and Sam with the club’s fundraising concept.

“So many people are struggling at the moment, and for them to come to us, we were very grateful because we plan to put that money back into the community,” Aidan said.

“We’re seeing a lot of generosity out there, and it’s an incredible initiative by them.

“That’s the only light that’s come out of this tragedy – if we can help save another life, that’s our job done. We’d see that as a silver lining, almost.”

It’s the aim of the CMYSF and the Maric family to get real mental health support to young people who most need it in regional communities – through community groups, schools, and the like.

Aidan said the foundation had been “inundated” with messages from people – and other such community groups – asking how they can rally behind the cause.

“It’s incredible, the support that’s out there, and I think it’s really brought on by these times,” he said.

“Mental health was a huge issue before Covid, but Covid has really exacerbated the mental health problems so many people are facing.”

Sam said the close ties of the Western Park and broader Warragul communities to the Maric family meant that the effect of Corey’s passing was felt far and wide.

“Two different demographics at our club have strong ties to the family through school and sport, and when a community loses a young person the damage sends shockwaves through everyone, regardless of how well you knew them,” he said.

“I personally feel most young men – to varying degrees – have been in a position where they feel isolated and lost.

“For the entire society, Covid is an unprecedented event, and particularly for young people – and those who play sport – I think the anxiety has been amplified with a real outlet being taken away.

“Personally, it was a real shock to the system not playing footy for the first time in about 15 years, and while the break from playing was manageable, the structure of training twice a week and then playing being taken away takes a lot of adjusting to – with the lack of social interaction the worst part.

“I can’t imagine there are too many people today who can say they are in a better place, mentally, than what they were six months ago, so hopefully with cricket (touch wood) looking like it can go ahead this season, many players and spectators can get some enjoyment back in their weeks.”

And Sam – also a highly-respected footballer at Garfield – said Western Park’s focus on mental health issues will be an ongoing one.

“This is really our first foray in to this domain, and the main thing is pushing the culture of ‘speaking up’ when you need to, as well as identifying when a friend may be struggling,” he said.

“Being aligned to CMYSF, I know they are working on getting mental health workers more involved in clubs and schools, so a main focus (of ours) will be getting speakers in, particularly with the bulk of the club being in the 16 to 25-year-old age bracket.

“Importantly, we’ve got a great network at the club – led by uncle Paul McCluskey – where all players know it’s a safe place to let their guard down on a Thursday or Saturday night, regardless of how many runs or wickets they’ve made or taken. Continually developing this culture is a priority.”

To find out more about the CMYSF, search for the ‘Corey Maric Youth Support Foundation’ on Facebook, and visit the Western Park Cricket Club page to donate to their cause.

Those seeking help should contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14 or by visiting www.lifeline.org.au; Beyond Blue at 1300 22 46 36 or www.beyondblue.org.au; Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au; or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.