Shay's living the dream and wants others to join her

“I just love scoring goals": Shadeene Evans. Source: NITV News

Shadeene Evans hopes the dream she has been living for the past year leads to more young indigenous footballers being given the chance to find out just how good they can be.

The 15-year-old's world is a lot different to what it used to be, having moved from the remote town of Borroloola, in the Northern Territory, to Sydney on a scholarship to attend Westfields Sports High School, at Fairfield.

As Karlyn Johns, the mother from the Engadine family Evans lives with, pointed out: "The number of children attending the school is bigger than the entire population of the community she comes from, so it's a really big change for her."

Positive reports of just how well Shadeene, or Shay, as she likes to be known, is progressing come at a time when the game has just celebrated Indigenous Football Week and the inaugural National Indigenous Football Championships, held in Nowra, NSW, on the weekend.

"Football means a lot to me," Shay told The World Game. "It has given me an opportunity to come down to Sydney and go to school at Westfields Sports High and get a great education as well as be coached by great coaches and play with great players.

"I feel like I'm improving as a player every week. I'm doing things a lot better than when I first started here. My diet wasn't good, but now I'm eating a lot of good food and training very well, going to the gym."

Indigenous Football Week
Shadeene Evans at Allianz Stadium.
NITV News

Karlyn said the physical changes she had noticed in Shay were substantial.

"Since she has come down here she has grown a lot," Karlyn said. "The nutrition has played a big part and they've cut a lot of sugar from her diet as well. She has grown about 60 centimeters in just over a year.

"She still has a way to go with fitness, but that will come. She started from further back than the other kids at school, so there was a huge area for improvement and she's making up that ground.

"Shay's a natural athlete. She's good at basketball and running as well. AFL is another game she likes playing."

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But it is only natural that Shay would miss home.

"Sometimes I do, but I'm very busy at school and training every day and I don't think about home when I'm doing that," she said. "Keeping busy helps with homesickness.

"It's so much different, coming from a small, remote community and living in Sydney. But it's great at school, everyone helps me."

Karlyn, whose 15-year-old daughter, Gracie, also attends Westfields Sports High, adds: "Shay goes home every school holidays and when she's back home she loves to go camping and hunting.

"The coming and going is hard for her emotionally. She leaves here, so she's leaving people behind, and it's the same when she leaves her family back home. She feels like she's constantly saying goodbye to people."

Shay said there were many children back at her community who loved playing football.

"It would be great for them to come down here as well and do what I'm doing," she said. "That's what I want to see."

Another five young indigenous footballers from various regions are headed to Sydney for a similar opportunity to the one Shay has, with the assistance of John Moriarty Football.

"John Moriarty Football is fantastic," Karlyn said. "We couldn't have done this without their support.

"And if you've got family and coaches and teachers who all understand the situation, then you've got this whole network of people who are working to try and help the children along and that makes it a lot easier, because there are difficulties at times"

Shadeene Evans with John Moriarty
Shadeene Evans with John Moriarty.
John Moriarty Football

Shay recently trialed successfully for another year in the NSW Institute of Sport program.

"She's going really well there," Karlyn said. "The NSW Institute program has elite squads for under-16s and 17s. They're being coached by Craig Foster and Leah Blayney, an ex-Matilda.

"Craig has a lot to do with John Moriarty Football and he's trying to get more indigenous children into the program."

Shay clearly doesn't mind a challenge. She says he favourite subjects at school are Mathematics and Science.

She said she talked to the many other promising athletes in various sports at school about hopes and dreams.

"I'm progressing really well at school," she said. "I'm going there with lots of athletes who motivate me and help me to be the best I can be.

"I would love to play for my country at the World Cup. That would be fantastic and I'd be proud if that happened."