League of his own
THE Australian Rugby League Commission has formally recognised Kadina High School teacher Mark Ippolito for building a strong footy culture at his school and keeping at-risk indigenous kids on track.
The league enthusiast and head English teacher was recently named a finalist in the ARL Commission National Teacher of the Year Award, one of eight categories in the 2012 One Community Awards.
During the past three years Ippolito has worked tirelessly to get indigenous students and their parents engaged in the game through the Country Rugby League and Kadina Engagement Program.
"For the most part, it's an at-risk indigenous program for boys and girls," he said.
"We go well and truly out of our way to contact anyone who's remotely interested in coming to the school about football, anyone who'll play us in football and anybody who'll support us in football."
The program has been a success on many levels.
Thirty of the school's students are now accredited coaches and referees who regularly teach workshops at other local schools.
Kadina High School now also has five competitive rugby league teams, one of which finished second in a recent knockout competition against other local schools.
However, Ippolito said the program's biggest benefit had been improvements in student behaviour.
"The sheer decline in discipline issues is ridiculous," he said.
"There are at least four kids who have been expelled from other schools but we have no problem with them.
"The secret to engagement here has been rugby league."
Ippolito recently secured a $20,000 grant from the Department of Education to continue the program and was hopeful about gaining more funding from the National Australia Bank later this year.
When the ARL Commission phoned to tell him he was a finalist in the upcoming awards, Ippolito didn't believe them.
"I just thought it was my mates pulling my leg," he said.
"It's nice to get recognition."
The winners will be announced at Sydney Town Hall on Monday, September 24.