IN 2004, Maribyrnong College had a projected enrolment of just 17 students for grade 7.
"Accepting 17 students, you're not going to remain viable for long," sports director Rob Carroll says.
Last week, the specialist sports college blitzed the competition at the Victorian School Sports Awards, picking up 12 awards, the most of any school in the state.
Quite a turnaround. The school embarked on an ambitious plan to combine elite sports coaching with education that took staff to national and international sports clubs, colleges and universities to come up with the strategy to drive it.
The first batch of students was enrolled in the sports program in 2007. It now has 480 students in the sports program and last year received 200 applications for 80 grade7 places.
"We keep stressing to the kids, the parents and staff, the facilities are great but if the program isn't great the kids won't be retained. You have to have the right people in front of them. Our retention rate is now around 90per cent," Mr Carroll said.
Students are represented in 28 different sports; 12 of those have more intensive coaching programs. While the physical transformation of the school, including the $10million sports centre, is testament to its progress, there's more to come. Work is going full-steam ahead on the synthetic pitches that will be used for sports such as hockey, soccer and cricket.
Mr Carroll says the sports program is reaping academic rewards. Sports students are among the school's top 25 academic achievers, and last year the school's VCE result was one of the state's most improved. "We say they need to develop a career path; it's not in every sport you can earn a living."
The Maribyrnong College winners include Ernest Yam (badminton), Guy Walker (cricket), Kallista Heng Do, (golf), Sarah Breen (hockey), Jeremy Walker (soccer), Bradley Moore and Lushavel Stickland (swimming), Nathan van der Heiden (tennis), Hannah Wright (volleyball), and Nathan Pellissier (athlete with a disability).