Lighthouse club – Wangaratta BC
“If you don’t keep recruiting, you don’t go any further,” says Wangaratta Bowls Club president Greg McDonald.
For this 110 member club – one of three bowls clubs in the north-east Victorian town – Jack Attack is critical to its plans.
The modified, shortened version of the game is being used as the ideal bridge for those who may have been exposed to the game through a game of barefoot bowls, or playing bowls at the Christmas party.
Here’s their chance to test themselves in a competitive environment without necessarily committing to Pennant just yet.
As Bowls Victoria speaks to McDonald, he and Wangaratta BC are preparing for another Thursday night of Jack Attack.
There’s 60s, 70s and 80s music pumping out, participants bopping along as they wait to put down a bowl, and a great spirit among those playing as the sun peters out and the lights go on.
It wasn’t always like this though. Wangaratta tried Jack Attack successfully a few years ago, then it stalled.
“We handed it over to the players to organise themselves, and it just didn’t work,” is McDonald’s honest admission.
“They want to play, they didn’t want to have to organise it too. So we reverted back to us doing the work.
“We did have it on a Wednesday night, and after we tried it on a Friday night and it didn’t work, we settled on Thursday night. Now it’s working really well.”
That’s an understatement. Looking at those playing, enjoying themselves, having a drink and a laugh and trying out a great sport without committing vast tracts of a Saturday to do so, and it’s clear Wangaratta BC have connected with the community.
Also key was a subtle change to their recruitment strategy to get the community involved in Jack Attack.
Instead of word of mouth, or asking those who hadn’t shown an interest in the sport, Wangaratta tapped into their database of barefoot bowlers who’d already visited the club.
It worked. What they found there were plenty who’d enjoyed themselves previously, and wanted the chance to play bowls again.
The personal touch of a tap on the shoulder was all they needed.
Currently there are 14 teams, and 40 to 50 new bowlers on the green during their Thursday night program.
As well as the obvious bar, food and raffle takings from Jack Attack nights, McDonald says there have been spinoffs for the club on a membership basis.
Several players – mostly ladies – have become involved in the sport on a more regular basis as a result of their Jack Attack exposure.
And Wangaratta’s commitment to bringing new bowlers into the sport helps in the bigger picture, which is to get more people involved in playing bowls, as well as the sport’s work with VicHealth in getting inactive or somewhat active Victorians more physically active through bowls.
Wangaratta has room to grow its membership, with four greens – three grass, one synthetic – at the club.
Already the club has grown its membership an impressive 10 percent in season 2015-16.
Jack Attack is not the only driver. Wangaratta BC has a wheelchair group which visits once a month, while it has been speaking to Bowls Victoria about the best way to get more children and school groups involved at the club.
The ambitions are lofty, and Wangaratta looks to another lighthouse club in Fitzroy Victoria BC in inner-Melbourne for inspiration in its plans around social bowls.
“When you look at some clubs like Fitzroy Victoria, you’ve got to sometime book weeks in advance to get a (social) game,” he says.
“We hope to build it up to that eventually. That would be great.”
And his best tip for clubs wanting to run Jack Attack?
“Get it going and then listen to the feedback of participants. Be flexible in how you run it to make sure it suits them.”
More information on Jack Attack