This summer, Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) will admit it’s twentieth Bronze Medallion squad made-up of students from partnering Upwey High School.
Since 1999, an estimated 575 Upwey High School students have gained their Bronze Medallion at Woolamai Beach SLSC, going on to become qualified, active patrolling members.
Long-term Woolamai Beach SLSC member Stafford Smith began the initiative, after initially conducting school-based Bronze Medallion courses with Upwey High School at nearby beaches as early as 1983.
Stafford was a member of Gunnamatta SLSC during his youth, attaining his Bronze Medallion in the 1969/70 summer, and patrolling until he was around 24 years old.
Upon commencing his role as a Physical Education (PE) teacher at Upwey High School in 1982, Mr. Smith quickly added a Lifesaving component to the Year 10 PE course in 1983.
“Originally, students were attaining their bronze medallions but not always joining a club” says Stafford. “The association originally developed when in 1996, 97 and 98 the students were assessed by Brett Ellis and Georgie Wettenhall, who were members of Woolamai Beach SLSC. They noticed the ability and potential of the students over the years, and invited an initial group of 24 students to do a full ‘bronze camp’ with Woolamai Beach SLSC in 1999. We’ve never looked back”
The Upwey High School partnership has had a profound effect on the Woolamai Beach SLSC, with the last four Club Captains (Max Eldridge, Adrian Koller, Jackson Sinclair, and Joel Godbee) all ex-Upwey High School Students, while five out of six Patrol Captains last year were graduates of the Upwey High School program.
Former student Tia Stewart currently serves on the board of Woolamai Beach SLSC, while fellow-alumni Shannah Anderson has served previously.
“Countless Upwey High School students have served as First Aid Officers, Chief Instructors, Operations Officers, Patrol Captains, Patrol Vice Captains, and been Club Champions – there’s too many to name,” says Mr Smith. “There are around 140 Upwey High School graduates who are current members of the Club.”
Stafford estimates that a further 340 Upwey High School students gained their Bronze Medallion between 1983 – 1999, before the official partnership began.
While now semi-retired, Stafford has a role at Upwey High School helping organise and run the Bronze Program and other school camps.
“I am thankful for our team of Bianca Myers, Pat Nichol, Grant Nichol, Wendy Hancock and Judy Andreola, who currently run the program. The project would not run without them and the support of the school and the Woolamai Beach SLSC,” says Stafford.
He says the relationship between the school and the club is an important one and that the school has fed into the club quality young lifesavers, with the club offering these young people, “incredible opportunities to develop to their full potential”.
“Woolamai Beach SLSC is an amazing place,” says Stafford. “I think this ongoing partnership has been possible because of the quality of older club members and the friendships and mentoring that encourages the young members to, in turn, put in so much – the cycle continues year after year. To know we have saved lives is truly rewarding.”