This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Jayme Fressard is the first to admit she was a bit of a “naughty kid” in school. Fortunately, sport came to the rescue.
“Growing up, I didn’t think school was for me. For a while I was getting into trouble and hanging out with the wrong kids,” she said.
“Then I found a sport that I loved. I had a couple of teachers that believed in me and pushed me and motivated me. Thanks to them, I ended up finishing my HSC, playing rugby sevens for Australia and staying in school.”
Whilst at that point Fressard’s sport of choice was rugby union (partly because she had been told girls didn’t play rugby league), she has since made the switch to rugby league, making her debut for the Brisbane Broncos at the NRLW Nines in Perth earlier this year.
The speedy outside back had to wait to make her debut after suffering some serious injuries earlier in her career including a torn ACL, so the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic was unfortunate given that Fressard made her debut and then was unable to play any more footy for months on end.
She has eagerly been waiting for state competitions to resume and was “over the moon” to hear that the Holden Women’s Premiership would take place later this year.
Even without footy though, Fressard has been busy recently.
When Fressard says that the influence of her teachers helped her to “stay in school”, she wasn’t kidding.
Since completing high school, Fressard has been working with an organisation called Creating Chances that runs programs in schools and community centres aiming to inspire, develop and empower young people to believe in themselves and contribute positively to society.
The team from Creating Chances has visited 100 schools and community organisations across Sydney, the Central Coast and the Illawarra and 250 programs have been delivered since 2015 to close to 10,000 primary and high school students.
For Fressard, her job gives her the opportunity to be the mentor or teacher that she craved growing up.
“If I can go to a school and be the teacher or mentor that these kids need, then I wonder how many lives I can change. I look at myself when I was in school and try and be what I needed,” she said.
“Sport changed my life during school. There are so many ways you can use sport as a force through good whether it be through teaching skills or the friendships you create. There is so much you can take from the field off it.”
When it comes to students, Creating Chances does not discriminate. The organisation has several programs, some for students with leadership potential, others with behavioural challenges and others who may need some help finding a new path.
One of the main programs Fressard helps deliver is for high school students called the “Champions Program”.
For two periods, once a week, the Creating Chances team teaches students a new life skill and then shows them how they can use that activity through sport, games and activity.
The following term, the high school students take the games and lessons learnt in the first term into primary schools. Here, the students are challenged to create their own games and then run them with the primary school students.
The transformation can be significant.
“Some of my strongest memories are of kids who, when we start the program, are shy and don’t want to interact with you. We also see plenty of kids that are uncomfortable talking in front of others,” she said.
Sport changed my life during school.
“By the end of the program, to see them running games with the primary school kids, standing up and volunteering to talk in front of the other kids is incredible.”
Fressard’s role often takes her back to her old stomping grounds, Wyong High and Gorokan High.
“I do sometimes bump into teachers that used to teach me.
“Fortunately though, after the teachers get over their surprise to see me, they love to see me coming back to school and helping out kids who need it.”
Given her transformation from naughty student to mentor and facilitator now, Fressard also has some helpful advice for her 15-year-old self.
“Study and listen to your teachers.”