Meet Marilyn. Marilyn Richards or the preferred name – ‘Maz’. A volunteer in the sport that requires your attention and support.
Maz is currently being recognised by Westfield in the Local Heroes competition. Nominated and voted by their communities, the top three finalists per Westfield centre are each awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation.
The Wizards is the organisation that Maz is associated with by being tasked to play the role of league president. An assignment that she has carried out for the last five years after being connected with the group for more than 20 years.
“I love to see all the guys bowl and see the friendships they have made; the way they grow in confidence, they just seem to blossom. In particular, the friendships I have developed with them and their families” explained Maz.
The ACT Wizards are a league providing a year-long weekly bowling competition at Zone Belconnen in the Australian Capital Territory. The competitors cannot be missed, all lining up throughout the centre, ball in hand wearing their unmissable bright orange and blue jerseys.
The league is so large that it takes up the whole bowling centre. Saturday mornings are a hive of social activity as bowlers gather to bowl, watched on by family, friends, and support workers. A place of laughter, celebration, and encouragement. A ritual that has occurred for nearly 30 years with a simple goal that they continue to achieve.
“The mission is to improve the lives of people with a disability through social, health, and self-esteem benefits that are gained with involvement in a team sport and in particular, tenpin bowling,” said Maz.
The Wizards league provides opportunities for people with a diverse range of disabilities including intellectual disabilities, blind, deaf, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome, and other behavioural issues.
“Not only are the bowlers enjoying the weekly bowling (they are all very competitive), they enjoy seeing us every week, to catch up and let us know how their week has been” described Maz. “For some of these guys, it can be their only contact they make with their peers”.
There are currently 100 bowlers registered with the league with many on a waiting list to enter. The Wizards are made up from a diverse age group ranging from the youngest at 16 years old to the oldest at 70.
The origins of the Wizard league are largely unknown with many stating there is conflicting information on who started the league. Many names have been involved throughout the years. One of those names is no other than Australian Disabilities Tenpin and TBA Disabilities National Tournament director, Michael Cooke.
All the wonderful volunteers involved have played a huge part in making the league what it is today – the belief that it is the largest running Disabilities league in the country.
The league doesn’t just bowl league once a week either. The president and committee are constantly looking for ways to get participants involved.
Bowlers are not only encouraged to participate in the weekly league but also to compete in other competitions with other clubs locally, interstate and on a national level. Other opportunities also provided are walking groups, discos, and dinners.
“The Wizards League fosters and develops social skills and networks for friendships. It encourages and helps to develop responsibility and respectful behaviour. All of these opportunities and skills enable the bowlers to develop friendships and build their confidence as active members of the ACT community” proudly stated Maz.
The Wizards schedule is one that lasts the year.
- January – One week before Australia Day, the Wizards host an Australia Day Tournament that hosts 150 local and interstate bowlers.
- March – The group travels to Albion Park for a weekend to participate in the Illawarra Star Strikers Challenge
- June – The ‘highlight’ of the year when the Committee plus parents and carers take a delegation of 33-36 bowlers to the National Tenpin Bowling Championship for People with a Disability.
- September- Travel to Wagga for their Inaugural tournament
- October – Usually travels to the Orange Tournament for another weekender.
A league president has many important responsibilities in overseeing and guiding bowlers throughout a season. The title of the president requires an amount of trust from league bowlers to carry out the duties required. Trust and respect are two things that are frequently associated with Marilyn Richards.
“Marilyn’s commitment is her strength” explained league secretary and good friend Sandra Cusack. “I respect Marilyn’s commitment to ‘steering’ the league and supporting the committee each week. I assist Marilyn as she works tirelessly to ensure all bowler’s needs are met”.
Along with her committee, Maz and Sandra are key cogs in the running of the Wizards league. Over the past five years, Sandra has served as league secretary and competition coordinator. A friendship has developed over the past twenty years with the common denominator being young people with a disability.
“I met Marilyn in 2000 when I worked at The Woden School as a Learning Support Assistant (for people with special needs) where her daughter, Haylee, attended” explained Sandra. A lengthy link with Marilyn has provided a firsthand view of the person Marilyn is to many.
“Marilyn is a very good-hearted person whose priorities include the treatment and respect for the people in the Wizards League. She is a great advocate for these guys. She is a heroine in her own right. This is evident as she has the respect of the 100 league bowlers, their parents, carers, and her peers” explained Sandra. “If others witnessed Marilyn’s experiences and felt the same way she does, the world would have an influx of volunteers!”.
A heroine is a woman admired for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Marilyn not only plays the role of president but lends a hand wherever she can.
“Marilyn is not only the President of the league, but she also takes an active part in coaching and administration, attending every Saturday morning to ensure the league runs smoothly” explained Sandra. “Marilyn always strives to do her best in everything she attempts. She is a leader who empathises with the bowlers and their families. A team player, good listener, helpful, and obliging who still is prepared to make the hard decisions that are required by having the ability to call ‘a spade a spade’”.
Maz is a person with many hats but one that is under no illusion of what’s most important.
“I am a mother and a grandmother, first and foremost!” said Maz. “I have 4 great grown kids. Three girls and one boy. The youngest has Down Syndrome. I have nine grandchildren and they are the apple of my eye”.
In Maz’s ‘other life’ she was a public servant, before later working in the Education Department as a Learning Support Assistant in a special needs setting. Following this, Maz moved to work for several years in aged care. “A very round life of experiences”.
A busy lady who still has time for her Wizards. As a volunteer, monetary reward is not the reason one gets involved. Instead, it is the intrinsic elements.
“I’m involved, not only because I have a daughter, Haylee, with a disability but for what I get out of it myself” clarified Maz. “Being involved with the guys keeps me young (younger) and active. I feel I have a lot to give and I get a great deal of delight in what is achieved every week, month, and through the years. I think because the Wizards are so appreciative, it makes the work we do so much easier”. Maz would also point out successfully having a committee on the same page makes her job so much easier.
“The Committee endeavours to keep in contact with bowlers, parents, and carers to keep everyone concerned up to date with all aspects of bowling. Most importantly, Marilyn is an integral cog within the Committee that strives to address the leagues’ goal/mission” explained Sandra Cusack. “Any decisions regarding the league; she insists must be made by the committee. All tasks/issues undertaken are with enthusiasm and enjoyment”.
“Working with Marilyn and volunteering as the secretary and the competition coordinator gives me a great personal sense of achievement. The Committee strives for professionalism and I feel very much a contributor” explained Sandra. “I feel humbled by the respect I’m shown and seeing the families excited with how their young person is continually achieving and growing. This feeling cannot be explained. I love my job!!!”.
As with all things 2020, COVID forced a hiatus for the league. A return in late July to restricted capacities meant some creative thinking was required from the Committee to accommodate such a large league. Some changes even providing improvements within the league.
“It was decided on a new process and format with some responsibility on the bowlers, their families, and carers for booking a spot each week. So far there have been fewer absences in squads per week as there were in the normal competition. There are still some bowlers who are apprehensive about returning, some are pre or post bowling, and a small number of bowlers will not return till 2021. Bowlers are grateful to be back, and some good scores have been forthcoming. This has been working beautifully” stated Maz.
The pause in play provided a clear understanding of Maz’s love for the sport.
“I love bowling because it gets me out and I’m doing something for me. It allows me to meet new people and as I’m a ‘wee’ bit competitive it challenges me to be the best I can be”.
If Marilyn is successful in the Westfield Local Heroes competition, her plan is for the Wizards to use the grant to travel to regional tournaments and to attend next year’s national tournament.
“I am over the moon at being nominated. It would be sooooo good to be able to alleviate costs for the bowlers for travelling teams, especially the Nationals”.
With or without the grant, the work will continue for the Wizards. A commitment from the likes of Maz, Sandra, the Committee, and all the volunteer heroes who have played a part in what the Wizards are today. A league built on solid foundations with a clear mission. One that is guided by a wonderful president in Marilyn ‘Maz’ Richards.
“The welfare of the young people are her priorities” clarified Sandra. “she sees the person first only making allowances for their disability. This is truly commendable. Marilyn always strives for these young people to reach their full potential”.
Thirty years and today the Wizards sit as one of the largest Disabilities tenpin bowling leagues in the country. The question was asked – Any idea how many bowlers have been through the group throughout the history of the league?
“We have no idea, but we don’t seem to lose any bowlers these days so we must be doing something right” replied Maz.
You certainly are and keep up the great work guys! Vote 1 Marilyn Richards!
Voting is open to any person over the age of 18 years (Voter). If a person under the age of 18 wishes to cast a vote, they may participate by having their parent or guardian cast a vote on their behalf