BENDIGO'S Jayden Cowling will never forget being the lone boy on the court, when he first started playing at the Golden City Netball Association (GCNA) as a seven-year-old.
It was a situation that was a constant of his early years in the sport - albeit no barrier to eventual state and national men's team selection and a flourishing coaching career at Victorian country football-netball league level.
While opportunities were limited for the now 24-year-old Cowling during his adolescence, he has made bolstering pathways for young male netballers one of his main aims in his role with Netball Victoria.
As a positive and decisive first step, the three-time Australian representative and head coach of BFNL club Kangaroo Flat ran his first all-boys netball clinic at the GCNA courts at West Bendigo on Wednesday.
The response certainly exceeded his expectations, with Cowling 'super-pumped' to have more than 25 boys register for the clinic.
"I thought I might only get a couple sign up, but it went off really well," he said.
"The rain held off, which was a bonus. It was just good to see the boys out there playing netball and giving it a go.
"I played my first ever game here (at Golden City) and as I said to the boys, I was the only boy playing.
"It's a bit of a proud moment seeing so many more keen netballers out on the court.
"There were a few out there who could really mix it up and could potentially go a long way.
"Even some of the younger boys, a few of the nine-year-olds, showed plenty of skill.
"Sometimes you get some boys who don't really know the rules, but I was impressed overall by the footwork and their knowledge of the game."
Cowling, a member of a Netball Victoria working group aimed at progressing men's netball, identifying new opportunities and marketing the men's game, enlisted some major support for the clinic.
Joining him on court were former Kangaroo Flat premiership star Ruby Barkmeyer - fresh from her debut Super Netball season with Melbourne Vixens - and current Roos star and 2019 Betty Thompson medallist Ashley Ryan.
"We really want to break down the barriers when it comes to men's netball," he said of the working group.
"The interest is there and it's great that the associations in this area are looking at ways to incorporate the men's game into their leagues.
"I'm imagining, maybe 24-months down the line, where the men's game can get to.
"The Victorian men's and mixed association in Melbourne is certainly looking at more ways to progress the game as well."
It's a bit of a proud moment seeing so many more keen netballers out on the court.Jayden Cowling
Serving to highlight how far the men's game has come, but on some levels not, one of the keenest participants at the clinic Elijah Davies wonders what his future in the sport might hold.
The 13-year-old only recently completed his third year in the GCNA with Boomerangs, but under current regulations will not be able to play on as part of or against a girls team.
"It's kind of hard for me to go down to Melbourne and play against boys, so I will have to find something else to do," he said.
"Hopefully they open up it more in the future to have a boys competition.
"It's a really fun sport, you can get out and meet people and make new friends.
"More boys should try it - it's a great experience."
A keen on-looker on Wednesday, Netball Victoria northern region manager Pam Ferrari said the clinic had been something 'new and exciting' for young male athletes in the region.
"It's been Jayden's passion to run a boys clinic for some time and it's really good that he has been able to make that happen this year," she said.
"The region is lucky to have someone like Jayden with his passion and enthusiasm.
"I remember him as a primary school kid playing on these courts and following his sister Lauren (White Hills coach Lauren Bowles) around at Kangaroo Flat, when she was out there.
"We are probably not that far away from a boy's or men's competition, it's something both associations (in Bendigo) are certainly interested in working towards.
"Not everyone wants to play football, some of them want to play netball and we will encourage it."
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