Generosity of 'incredible lady' behind Eels juniors
Jan Bryen reckons she's been called "mad" more than once for all the countless hours she has donated over 38 years to ensuring things in the Parramatta district junior system run smoothly, but says the reward of smiling kids makes it more than worthwhile.
Bryen remembers current towering Origin prop David Klemmer running round as a youngster at Toongabbie, and more than a decade earlier she was checking that registrations were in order while a pint-size Paul Gallen was in the juniors at Wentworhville.
Bryen first got involved when the eldest of her two sons – now 40 and 42 – starting playing junior footy and while their contemporaries have had kids come and go in the 38 years since ("neither of them have children playing rugby league!" she laughs), Bryen has been a mainstay.
Bryen was a recipient of the Michael Cronin Award Club Person of the Year award in 2014 and both the Eels Women In League award and NSWRL Volunteer of the Year award in 2011.
She has worked, on a strictly volunteer basis, on the General Committee of Fairfield Patrician Brothers JRLFC, then as assistant secretary and then secretary for the club, culminating in life membership in 2000.
She has donated her time to being on the Parramatta Junior Rugby League Club Advisory Committee before going on to be assistant secretary then treasurer of the Parramatta Junior Rugby League Board from 2003 to 2016, culminating in life membership of the Parramatta District Convents Rugby League Association.
For the past six years Bryen has volunteered in the Junior League office as Junior League Assistant.
"She's an incredible lady. Donates countless hours," Eels Strategic Partnerships Manager Michael Basan tells NRL.com.
"She does it off her own bat to make sure the kids are getting on the field every week and making sure the clubs are compliant. An incredible lady who's done an enormous job at our club, that's for sure."
Asked about what he thinks drives Bryen to donate so much time, Basan says simply: "She cares about the kids.
"You'll often go to her desk and she'll just say 'it's all about the kids'. She just gets a real kick out of putting smiles on faces so when kids are playing footy on the weekend and having a great time she can feel like she's had a small part to play in that and making sure that the kids are registered and compliant and the teams are improving week in week out.
"She takes a lot of pride I think in the smiles on kids' faces at the end of the year."
Bryen herself is a reluctant interviewee; "I don't really like talking about myself," she confesses. It is perhaps instructive that Bryen is far happier talking about the kids than about herself.
"Something that I will say has been very satisfactory to me is what we call 'Try Time'," she says.
"It's for children with disabilities or autism. They play out of Wentworthville. To watch those kids - I've watched them when they couldn't catch a ball, couldn't tackle a bag or anything and now they're out on the field playing and it's such a pleasure to see them play.
"It's great social engagement for the children and it's also great for the parents because they get to speak to other parents about problems they're having with their child and seeing how much their child has come on."
Of her own motivation to keep giving back, Bryen says she just wants to give something back of what she herself has gotten out of rugby league.
"I like helping people. If I wasn't volunteering here I'd be volunteering somewhere else because I like to help people," she says.
"At the moment I do virtually seven days a week, I do Monday to Friday in the office then on the weekend I go out to the games."
Plenty of what Bryen contributes is stuff you wouldn't imagine most people volunteering to do for free.
"I get told all the time how mad I am," she laughs.
"A lot of people say 'good on you'. A lot of them say 'you're mad'. But I enjoy it.
"There's a lot of work that people don't understand that goes on behind the scenes… On a normal day between say February first and June 30, players, coaches, managers and trainers can register and all the data entry has to be done. They've got to be allocated into teams, have photo sheets printed out, clearances and transfers need to be done.
"On the weekend I go out and try to watch the games, help our new managers and how they do the scoring and show them how to fill in score sheets. Check all the coaches and managers and trainers have all been registered and have all got cleared working with children checks, that's the biggest bug bear at the moment. And just enjoy the rest of the game."
Parramatta Junior League General Manager Matt Brady says Bryen has made a "tireless contribution" over four decades.
"She puts in five days a week then goes out to games Saturday and Sundays and does what she can to help out. Fantastic contribution," he says.
"All the tireless admin stuff we have to do in this day and age, she still does that then goes out to the games. She loves it and still has plenty to contribute. You'd be hard pressed to find somebody else that does the hours that she does.
"Monday to Friday she is in the office assisting and doing what she can for all the data admin then Saturdays and Sundays she'll be out at a ground somewhere doing what she can, she'll answer questions if she can or see that people are doing the right thing.
"Show me another person that volunteers Monday to Friday. She can be there til eight o'clock at night; if we've got a judiciary hearing or code of conduct hearing she'll be there or volunteer to sit on the panel then go out on Saturdays and Sundays rain, hail or shine.
"She runs the doubles at the NRL when Parramatta play a home game and we do the daily doubles she looks after all of that. She gets one of the junior league clubs to come in and she facilitates and co-ordinates all of that at every Eels home game."