Three years ago, three quarters of the boys in the Sunshine Heights Cricket Club under 13s Ntini team coached by Matthew Shawcross didn't even know what cricket was. Despite this, they recently made the local grand final and are now one of the most competitive teams in Melbourne's western suburbs.
'Five years ago, most were malnourished, traumatised and trying to survive in the world's largest refugee camp at Kakuma in Kenya,' says Matthew of the boys who fled conflicts in their home countries of Uganda and Sudan.
'Since arriving in Australia, the kids have found learning English tough and, as a result, many struggle at school. Cricket is, however, something they can do well at, have succeeded in and, consequently, have grown in self-esteem. I know that for these boys, Sunshine Heights is like a 'second family'.
Matthew, who is the club's head coach, describes their on-field success as the most remarkable sporting story he's ever been involved with.
The reality is, Matthew has been the driving force behind this remarkable story, not only as their coach, but as a teacher to many of these boys at Mother of God School in Ardeer where he is Deputy Principal and Student Wellbeing Leader.
He was the one to get them playing cricket, which he says has led to better outcomes for them educationally, socially and emotionally.
He's completed a thesis on just that, following the progress of the 25 boys from his school involved in the cricket club.
To help with numeracy, they did maths through the My Cricket website, learning about statistics and producing graphs. Their literacy improved through reading cricket books and writing reports on cricket games.
Over a 12-month period, there was a marked improvement in their school work. It also helped with their social and emotional development, as they learnt about respecting the umpire's decisions and working as a team.
Matthew says he is passionate about providing opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
'For me as an educator and someone passionate about sport, it is satisfying to see them go on and succeed in life.
'It's rewarding also for the wider community in terms of breaking down stereotypes. Most people who meet these boys comment on how great they are.'
Of volunteering, Matthew says that any volunteer work that can be done to assist the local community is vital.
'The more volunteers we have in whatever endeavour to support young people will benefit that community tenfold down the track. People should just roll up their sleeves and have a go at it.'
Tim Hopper works 70-hour weeks as General Manager of a major electrical contracting firm, but that hasn't held him back from starting up a 20-20 cricket competition in Horsham, complete with coloured balls, coloured shirts – and now coloured pads.
Tim doesn't just like cricket, he loves it. But he's worried that young kids are being swayed towards football with the promise of big dollars – and that it's causing real harm to cricket.
'This form of the game is an avenue to get participation up. I'm doing this for the love of the game and to protect its integrity. It's about harmony in cricket – it doesn't matter your age or gender, everyone can play. We have 16 year olds and 60 year olds playing,' Tim says.
He started the mostly mid-week corporate competition two years ago, after they installed lights at the main oval in Horsham making it possible to play night cricket.
'This is an avenue where someone can have a hit and a giggle for three hours, then go home.'
His new competition has increased cricket participation locally by 10-15 per cent. 'I'm pretty happy with that,' he says modestly.
He devotes around 15 hours a week to cricket, on top of his paid work – he says he wouldn't be able to do it without the support and understanding of his wife Jacqui.
He thinks that most people do volunteering work without even knowing they're doing it.
'It's like an unwritten rule – you just have to do it at some time in your life. You've got to get in there and do something you love doing.'
Tim and Matthew's efforts have been backed by Cricket Victoria's Harmony in Cricket program which aims to embrace and promote values like justice, equality, fairness and mateship.