For a group of sports-mad boys it was a day to remember.

On December 11, Australian cricketers Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson hosted a special coaching session for 15 Clontarf Academy students at the historic WACA ground in Perth.

The cricket day marked Coca-Cola Australia Foundation’s latest grant to the Clontarf Foundation, an organisation that supports more than 2,900 Aboriginal boys in 54 academies across the country, from Carnarvon to Armidale.

The Clontarf Foundation partners with schools to work with young Aboriginal men, building their confidence, self-esteem, education and life skills by tapping into their passion for sports.

But don’t tell the kids that, says Clontarf Foundation founder and chief executive Gerard Neesham. They think it’s all about sport.

“We use what the kids love, which in most cases is sport, and that helps attract them back to school,” Gerard said.

“Once you get them into the academy and playing sport you can then do all the other things that need to be done – improve their self esteem, model right and wrong, talk about appropriate eating, the value of education, the desire to have a job.” 

Gerard is a former teacher and Aussie Rules player who coached the Fremantle Dockers’ first four seasons in the AFL. He started the first Clontarf Academy in 2000 with a class of 21 boys. 

While many of the boys are very talented sportsmen and a few go on to play professionally, the focus at Clontarf is on improving the students’ prospects after school.

“It’s very rare that a kid becomes an Olympian or a great cricketer or a great Australian footballer or rugby league player. The vast majority just get to enjoy sport and the benefits of it,” he said.

“I think sport is an important part of life for any kid, boy and girl, Aboriginal or not Aboriginal." 

The 15 boys have been chosen to attend the coaching session for showing a strong commitment to school, said Gerard. 

“They have to aspire to the best of their ability and circumstances to improve themselves, and if we really think they’ve had a good crack, then we try to do special things for them.” 

And it’s safe to say the boys are looking forward to it. 

“This is a pretty special day,” said Gerard. “They get to come to the WACA and get to be around members of the Aussie team, be on the oval and have bit of a bowl or a bat. It would be special for any kid. It’s very exciting."