On Friday 23rd of May, 156 young Gippsland athletes received graduation certificates from the Gippsland Sports Academy.

The function was held at the Morwell Bowling Club and recognizes the achievements of the athletes over the preceding 12 months.  Over 160 guests celebrated the achievements of the graduating athletes and were inspired by this year’s athlete panel discussion.   Five of our athletes, Lucas Furlan (Clay Target Shooting), Ruby Fullgrabe (Netball), Zoe Dowler (Swimming), Riley Nave (Tennis) and Jack Johnson (Volleyball) were given the opportunity to share their opinions, goals, values, experience and expertise from their own perspectives, as well as talk about their sacrifices and successes in response to questions curated by our moderator Judi Buhagiar (this years’ MC).   They all touched on memorable moments with the Gippsland Sport Academy programs, friendships made and that they are able to transfer skills learned from their sports into everyday life and showed gratitude to their coaches and supporters.

There were four major awards presented this year.

The Phil Shelley Award is for service to the Gippsland Sports Academy and sport in Gippsland.  This was awarded to Joanne Ballinger (from Sale). Jo, as she is affectionately known, was identified as a coach with the GSA for her ability to bring the best out in players she quickly began to leave her mark on the squads, encouraging them to be their best while also embedding values into the young athletes.  Jo joined the academy 5 years ago during which time she earned her Intermediate coaching accreditation and was appointed as an assistant coach with the Victorian League Netball Club, Hawks, a role she has held for 3 years.  Jo was called on to lead GSA sessions, a task she did seamlessly, her confidence and knowledge as a coach continuing to grow.    Jo continues to work at grassroots coaching Sale Football Netball Club A Grade and Gippsland League’s 17 & Under representative.   Jo is a tireless contributor to the sport of netball through the development of young players and is a worthy winner of the Phil Shelley Award.

The David Drane Award for encouragement was won by Ash Nicholes (From Traralgon).  Ash has been an exceptional athlete this season and has shown amazing improvement across all 4 strokes and in all distances.  In every level of competition this season Ash has raced with a mature and open minded approach and has taken onboard feedback both constructive positive with a level of humility and maturity.  Ash has raced Championships in all levels this season swimming Finals and winning medals at both State and National Competitions.  Ash has stepped his training up in terms of consistency and effort all season and is truly on track to become an impressive Open athlete in years to come.  He has continually strived to achieve both short term and long term goals in both his Short Course and Long Course seasons and has improved in all his PB’s of strokes and all distances for both seasons.  Ash is a very deserving winner of the David Drane Award.


Some of his results:


Qualified and swam in 10 individual events

2 A finals coming 9th in 50m Free and 10th in 50m Breaststroke

2 B Finals coming 1 in 100 Freestyle (11th Overall) and 8th in 100 Breaststroke (18th Overall)


Qualified, swam and finalled in 9 individual events

Earning 2 Golds and 2 Silver medals


Qualified, swam and finalled in 15 individual events

Earning 4 Silver medals and 2 bronze medals


The Darrell White Award is in recognition of high achievement in a team orientated sport and was awarded to Lara Noblett (from Morwell).  Lara has progressed through the Netball Victoria pathway in the past 3 years beginning by representing Moe & District Netball Association seeing her compete and be talent identified at Association Championships from there successfully progressed through to the Gippsland Sports Academy to her current program Netball Victoria Talent Academy.  Lara was 12 years of age when she was first identified.  Lara has been selected into Victorian Netball League (VNL) Club Saints development squad as a training partner.  Lara spent only one year in the GSA before quickly being identified as an exciting young talent with strong potential.  The talent scouts were particularly impressed with Lara’s coordination being only 12 and quite tall she currently stands at 186cms. Lara has been training fortnightly with Victorian Netball League Club, Saints since late 2022 after being identified from 100s of players vying for a position with the prestigious club, Lara is a training partner, only 5 places are on offer from the club.  On the domestic stage Lara will line up for Boolarra this year in both the 15 & Under as well as the B Grade in the Mid Gippsland Football Netball League competition, an opportunity that will see Lara test and polish her skills in the Open age competition at only age 15.  Lara is a mature young person and has a clear vision of her future in netball with a realistic approach.  Lara is a very deserving and highly regarded winner of the Darrell White Award.


The Tim Forsyth Award for Sporting Excellence was won by Lucas Furlan.  Lucas (from Traralgon)

performed exceptionally well at the World Championships in Italy 2022 and played a huge part in the Australian Under 21 team winning Gold, Lucas was only 15years old at the time and was the youngest competitor at the World Championships.  Following on from the team win at the World Championships, Lucas won Individual Gold at the Commonwealth Championships in January in the under 21’s at just 16years of age and also qualified 3rd for the Open Final.


Some of his results:

Member of the 2022 Australian Junior Team (under 21)

World Universal Trench Championships 2022

Team Gold

National Level:

Commonwealth ISSF Trap Championships 2023

Junior winner and Open Finalist


Overall Award Winners:

Phil Shelley Award:

Pictured (L – R) Joanne Ballinger with Board Member Howard Williams

David Drane Award:

Pictured (L – R) – Ash Nicholes with Board Member Jenni Lewis

Darrell White Award:

Pictured (L – R) Lara Noblett and Darrell White

 Tim Forsyth Award:

Pictured (L – R) – Lucas Furlan and Board Chair Jim Vivian