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Once a rebel, Skando finds cause close to his heart
November 22, 2009
John Skandalis says league saved him from a life of strife, now he’s passing on his wisdom, writes Adrian Proszenko.
John Skandalis is proof that you can turn your life around. That you can be a teenager running amok in Airds with no job, no mother and, seemingly, no hope. Much like the youngsters who visited the Wests Tigers during the week.
There were 13 of them, all from the troubled Macquarie Fields area, all with issues of their own. Some of them were homeless. Many were drug addicts and alcoholics. One recently learned his brother would be jailed for 19 years - without parole - for gang-related violence.
They arrived at Concord Oval on Thursday to hear from Skandalis as part of ‘Macquarie Fields Finding Jobs, Changing Lives’ program, an initiative by jobs services provider Max Employment. They also heard from Campbelltown product Chris Lawrence, the NRL star who started his own fitness business while still in his teens. And strength and conditioning coach Steve Folkes spoke about goal-setting and discipline, traits which helped him coach the Bulldogs to a premiership.
But it was the story of the local misfit who came good which resonated with the youngsters.
‘‘I wasn’t from a broken home, they’ve probably got it harder than what I do,’’ Skandalis told The Sun-Herald. ''They were guys and girls who have been in a bit of trouble in their personal lives and I wanted to share my experiences growing up.
''My mum died at an early age, when I was about 13 or 14. My dad had to raise me and my sisters by himself. He didn’t really have time to look after us because work was so hard, just trying to keep us going.
''I was getting into trouble on the law side of things. I was hanging out with some guys who did the wrong thing. I’m still friends with them now.
''I’m not saying I brushed them, but at the time it was a smart thing to do. I experienced that side of things and it’s not nice.
''I got myself into a bit of trouble when I was younger, as teenagers do. I didn’t want that life any more, I made sure that I stayed away from that and concentrated on football.
‘‘I’m lucky that rugby league came along for me, I don’t know where I would have ended up.’’
Skandalis admits he was lucky. After his mother died he was ‘‘taken in’’ by Josie McGuinness, the mother of footballers Kevin and Ken McGuinness.
‘‘I grew up with the McGuinness boys, their mum took me in and treated me like their own son,’’ he said. ''I lost my mum but I had another mother figure, I was pretty lucky that someone like that came along and took me in.
''As long as you learn from your mistakes and try to prove yourself, that’s the main thing.
''Rugby league saved me. Once I was in I did everything I could to stay clean. I ended up playing for 13 or 14 years and won a premiership.
‘‘That’s the message I wanted to tell them - find something you want to achieve and work hard at it. Don’t let any silly stuff get in the way.’’
The Tigers trio weren’t the only league stars to make an impact on the Macquarie Fields residents. Steve Mortimer and Gorden Tallis also addressed them at their graduation dinner at Wests Leagues Club last month. In order to get there they had to complete a number of programs, including anger management sessions and job skills training. They also had to live in a house together.
Some of them had never held jobs before and had little prospect of getting one. Some of them didn’t even have identification. However, they were given an opportunity to change their lives and most gratefully grabbed the chance. One of the residents, Andrew Speechley, stood up and said the following words at the graduation dinner: ''Six months ago I was trying to get my life back on track, 'cause I was doing drugs and drinking alcohol and I thought to myself I need to change.
‘‘Mandy from Max Employment saw me in the street as I was walking past the office and asked if I wanted to do a course. I said yes and next thing I know I was packing my bags and I was off. We arrived at Mowbray Park Farm Stay all quite nervous; not knowing what was on the road ahead’’.
After completing the course, the road ahead appears much brighter. The majority of graduates have completed work placements and will be in paid jobs by Christmas.
Dianne Hamer, from Max Employment, put it best when she said: ‘‘We’ve found that if you treat people with dignity and respect, they respond in kind.’’
The debate about whether footballers should be role models will go on forever. However, for the most disadvantaged kids from the Macquarie Fields area, the Tigers provided them with an experience they will remember forever.
Asked the main message he wanted to convey, Skandalis said: ''I was just trying to send the message that life is short and you’ve got to make the right decisions.
''They don’t have to follow their friends into the bad stuff.
''If you do the wrong thing, think about how that’s going to affect you later on.
‘‘Be strong enough to say no to anything that you know isn’t right.’’
Juro last edited by
What a champion!
I’m very happy my team participates in these initiatives. There should be more of it, and more media coverage of it. Good on Skando too, he’s been a great servant to the club, which will no doubt continue into his retirement.
Great work to all involved especially Skando, you are a champion.