If the story of Isabella and Kayla Brown had a reflection it would look no different from the many thousands that rebound off the sporting fields of Australia on a weekly basis.
Kids who just followed a parent’s passion for sport and became embraced by a second family.
But scratch the surface and this reflection has extra special meaning…with Izzy and Kayla’s mum Debbie – their coach, mentor and hero – dying in October 2018 after a long battle with Lymphoma.
This is a story dedicated not just to Debbie Brown, but to everyone involved at sporting clubs and a reminder that offering support and guidance can play a huge part in people’s lives.
It’s also a massive thank you from Izzy and Kayla – to the sporting community – and how they wish to keep their mother’s legacy alive.
By David Nagel
Offering support and providing guidance are things that Debbie Brown did better than most in a life that ended way too short in late October last year.
Deb polished those precious gems as a proud mother to her three daughters, Alyshia, Kayla and Isabella, and to her only son Jordan.
She also shared those gems with the local netball community despite a 16-year battle with Lymphoma – a battle that ended a well-respected life at the age of just 49.
Deb was the driving force behind netball becoming a staple of the St Thomas More Catholic Primary School in Mt Eliza and was an instrumental figure at the Mornington Peninsula Netball Association (MPNA) at Alexandra Park, where she was president.
And, to her two netballing daughters, Isabella, 20, and Kayla, 21, she was a hero.
“Mum was the reason that Kayla and I got involved in netball because she was always involved and we wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Isabella said.
“She started the netball program at primary school and was our first netball coach and imparted so much of her knowledge on to Kayla and I and our friends. She guided us all through everything and there’s no way that Kayla and I could have done the things that we’ve done without her.”
Isabella represented Victoria in Nationals in Under 15s and currently shares her elite netball skills with the Tyabb A Grade team and Boroondara in the VNL Championship. Kayla, who shares the court with her sister at Tyabb, represented Tasmania in under 17s.
But, despite their netball achievements, Isabella said that upholding her mum’s legacy – off the court – was what mattered most to her family.
“Mum always created a community spirit, from primary school all the way through,” Isabella said.
“And I think that is something that has carried through to Kayla and me because we really appreciate what people have done for us since mums passing. Nothing would stop her from going to the netball, not doctors or hospital checks, anything, and we just want people to remember her.”
Isabella and Kayla have already done so much to remember their mum. In November last year, just week’s after Deb’s passing, they organised to be part of a fundraiser for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and raised $46,000 in just one week for the foundation that cared so often for their mother over her long journey.
No shortage of support. Isabella and Kayla Brown, front centre and right, with their supportive teammates at Tyabb. From back left; Brianna Messina, Keira Wills, Tahlia Coates, Birgitta Nemaric and Talesha Neill. Caitlin Watson gives Isabella a friendly hug. Picture: AFL South East
They also organised for MPNFL clubs that had a close connection with Deb to wear black armbands as a further mark of respect across the first two weeks of the season. Players from Crib Point, Devon Meadows, Hastings, Mornington, Red Hill and arch-rival Somerville have joined the growing chorus of support.
“We just want to say a massive thank you to everyone for their support and let them know how much it means to us to keep mum’s name in netball and show what she meant to the community,” Isabella said, before explaining the best part about being involved in a club environment.
“It’s nice to come to Tyabb or Boroondara and just take your mind off things for a little bit and know that if we are struggling that people are there for us as well, that they have our backs,” she said.
“It makes such a huge difference to know that people at the club really do care.”
Caitlin Watson, a Tyabb teammate of Isabella and Kayla, probably summed things up best when explaining what the two girls mean to the club.
“I got to know Kayla and Izzy through playing netball at Tyabb and they’ve both become my best friends,” Watson said.
“Honestly, if they weren’t here, I wouldn’t be playing. Winning is fun, but if you don’t have people you care about by your side, what’s the point of it all.”
Debbie Brown’s legacy could carry a long-time into the future with the girls and Tyabb working closely with MPNFL Operations to create ‘The Debbie Brown Round’, most likely to coincide with the first meeting between Tyabb and Hastings each year.