When 10-year-old Noa Jessop was hit by a car and died at the gate to his families farm, a heavy sadness fell across the Bega Valley community.
Tears have been a big part of the 41 days that have followed, but so too has something powerful and remarkable. Something that will never justify the loss of a boy described as a great sportsman, but something his family and his community can be proud of and take ownership of.
Noa died on August 8 when he was struck by a westbound car after getting off his school bus on the Cobargo – Bermagui Road at Coolagolitie on the Far South Coast of New South Wales.
Being a small community and the Jessops being a well-known family, news of the tragedy spread quickly.
A lot of Noa’s teammates from the Bega Roosters Under 10’s Rugby League team would have heard the news before bedtime that night, but already the grown-ups in their lives were making plans to help them grieve and cope with the days of intense emotion ahead.
Jo Lever is a footy mum, her boy Sam was part of the team with Noa.
“I’ve never seen him (Sam) so distraught and devastated,” Mrs Lever says.
“For it to be someone his own age, all of a sudden it becomes real and it becomes ‘if that can happen to my 10-year-old mate, then it could possibly happen to me,’ it was so close to home.”
Recognising that his young team would need support, coach Andrew Badullovich wanted to act quickly.
“They’re the sort of team that is super close and he’s (Mr Badullovich) been a mentor to the boys, you’d look at him as an extra father really,” Mrs Lever says.
“I rang him and he really wanted to rally the boys.”
Officials from the National Rugby League (NRL) and Country Rugby League were moving quickly as well.
The NRL paid for a counsellor to be in attendance at an earlier than usual training session Mr Badullovich pulled together on the Wednesday afternoon.
“The main aim of the counselling was to provide parents and officials with some tools to help them when speaking to their children about the accident and Noa’s passing,” says NRL Game Development Officer, Damian Kennedy.
“Like most people, many of the parents have not been confronted with a situation like this before and they had to deal with their own emotions and feelings as well,” he says.
Another adult to step up for these young Roosters was clubman Jason Whitby who had connections with the Under 16’s team.
“He thought it would be a great idea to bring those boys in as a bit of a mentor,” Mrs Lever says.
“So while we (parents) were all in the clubhouse with the counsellor, Jason had all the Under 16’s out with the boys.
“They teamed up so there was an Under 16’s player with an Under 10’s player and they just played footy, pretty much took their minds off what was happening,” she says.
Mrs Lever believes bonds have been formed that will last many years.
“Andrew got the kids together, we talked about what had happened, they knew that the boys (Under 16’s) were there for them, they (Under 10’s) knew what was happening,” Mrs Lever says.
Two of Noa’s cousins were also part of the Under 10’s which added weight and emotion to that Wednesday afternoon for players, parents and officials.
“So it wasn’t just a member of their footy team that they were supporting,” Mrs Lever says.
Damian Kennedy speaks with pride when reflecting on the contribution of the Under 16’s.
“The older boys were an absolute credit to themselves, their families and the Club as they supported all the young boys,” he says.
“I feel that the older boys have all grown as men through having to deal with this, and support others through this tough time.”
A few days after that training session at the Bega Recreation Ground, the same people came together for Noa’s funeral in the grounds of his school – St Patrick’s in Bega.
The Under 10’s dressed in the red, white and blue of their club and formed a guard of honour as Noa and his family were driven from the church.
As hard as it was to be at the funeral, Mrs Lever believes it was an important part of the grieving process for Sam and his mates.
While heartbroken and wiping away tears when talking about it, she is grateful for what her boy takes away from this experience.
“The Club has been really really supportive, Andrew Badullovivh in particular,” she says.
“I know that no matter what happens in their life, they’ll be able to ring him or talk to him.”
The death of a 10-year-old boy is distressing and the thought of trying to find reason or ‘something positive’ seems out of place with the raw emotion.
I hesitate to say ‘good’ has come from this and so does Jo Lever.
“A gorgeous boy, a beautiful family, I just thought this is going to be a complete waste,” she says.
“There has been beautiful things come out of it.”
Click play to hear the full conversation Jo Lever and I had while she tended to patrons at the Commercial Hotel in Bega, runs 7:24…
Noa died just as his beloved team was to play for a spot in the grand final.
The skill of this talented full-back was missing when his team mates lost to Eden in the semi-final just a couple of weeks after the accident.
But the closeness of this regional community was on show that day when the Eden Under 10’s committed themselves to beating Batemans Bay in the grand final that would follow a week later.
“Two of them (Eden Under 10’s) turned around and said, don’t you worry Jo, I am really sorry that your boys couldn’t do this for Noa, but we are certainly going to get the job done for him,” Mrs Lever remembers.
Batemans Bay are only new to the competition in 2016 and had beaten all comers during a long, cold footy season, so going into the grand final, Eden were the underdogs.
It was a see-sawing battle, a locked scoreboard took these 10-year-olds into extra time.
“It was golden point,” Mrs Lever smiles.
“And they (Eden) did it, they scored a try, they did exactly what they said they were going to do, against all the odds.”
“They obviously had someone looking after them,” she says.
The NRL’s Damian Kennedy hopes the Jessops can take strength from this story.
“Whilst incredibly sad, I am sure that the Jessop family will feel great strength and support from the community and hopefully this will help them as they move on,” he says.
Pic 1: Noa Jessop in his Roosters jersey, from the Bega District News
Pic 2: Jo Lever at work in Bega’s Commercial Hotel
Pic 3: The Under 10 Bega Roosters help form a guard of honour at Noa’s funeral
*My thanks to Jo Lever and Damian Kennedy for sharing their feelings and thoughts.