IT was the phone call every president of a sporting club must dread when they have players away on an end-of-season trip.
For Heathcote Football-Netball Club president Andrew Conforti it came on Sunday afternoon when he was told one of his players – star forward Riki Stephens – was in a Gold Coast hospital in an induced coma.
End-of-season trips are meant to be an enjoyable few days away of fun and frivolity for players at the finish of a long season – a chance to let their hair down and enjoy a good time among team-mates.
There’s an old saying that what goes on the footy trip stays on the footy trip, but what has gone on at the Gold Coast at the weekend with Stephens is a scary reminder of why sporting clubs that are largely made up of young people need to constantly hammer home the dangers of drugs to their players and continue to educate.
Stephens was admitted to the Gold Coast University Hospital over the weekend after reportedly consuming the drug “flakka”.
The 27-year-old plumber, who kicked 59 goals for Heathcote this year and was awarded the most consistent player, is fighting for his life and the Saints and his family are now living through a nightmare as he remained in a critical condition on Wednesday.
It has been reported 16 people were hospitalised on the weekend on the Gold Coast as a result of taking flakka, a synthetic drug known to cause a range of symptoms, including aggressive behaviour, severe hallucinations and jaw clenching, with Stephens having since become the face of it throughout national media.
Such a story that has made national headlines has the capacity to paint the Heathcote Football-Netball Club in a poor light given Stephens was on the Saints’ footy trip.
But that is unfair to the Saints, who have been active in recent years in providing education to their players through the Outside the Locker Room program, co-founded by Jake Edwards and Glenn Manton, that aims to combat issues such as alcohol, drugs and peer pressure.
The Heathcote District Football-Netball League club has also run education programs centred around the dangers of the ice epidemic, as well as mental health, and will continue to do so.
However, clubs such as Heathcote can only do their best to provide the information to their players to ensure they are armed with the knowledge to make the right choices.
Luke West – sports reporter