Silence falls over the Aimee Lea Koehler Memorial Courts as a crescent of black and red forms, five or six deep in places, expectant. All eyes are drawn to Leanne Koehler, mother of Aimee, the former Howlong netballer who tragically took her own life nine years ago.
Footballers stand side by side with the netballers, the visitors from Lockhart also paying their respects and players from both clubs wearing odd socks on a day which has become a fixture on the Howlong calendar.
It feels like the whole community has descended on the court as Leanne unfolds a sheet of A4 paper and clears her throat.
"Aimee loved her netball, enjoyed being with her team-mates and cherished the many friendships she made on and off the court," she said. "Today is about sporting communities coming together to help make a difference in the ways that we can.
"We all have different challenges at different times in our life. We all have a different story. But what we do have is each other."
And how true that is, as the crowd breaks into a round of applause and the netballers form their pre-match huddle while both football teams jog back to the oval and go through their final preparations for the senior Hume league clash.
"I was president when we had our very first Odd Sock Day for the netball club," Rikki Hoskin tells me. "I played with Aimee so it was really significant for us to create a day where we could remember her and what she had done for our netball club.
"But after the first couple of years, we realised it wasn't just about Aimee or just about our club. There's a bigger picture to the mental wellbeing of lots of people within the community and we wanted to be there to support and encourage people to speak up.
"There are so many unknowns behind a closed door. What you see on the outside may not be how someone is feeling on the inside. Sport creates that outlet for them to come and enjoy themselves and to just be, to not have those worries."
Netball has been Hoskin's life since she was five, with the birth of her four children the only thing that's stopped her playing prior to this season.
"I'm a bit of a firecracker on the netball court," she admitted. "The white-line fever that I have is to get out there and be loud and let everybody on my team know that I'm there.
"I've got fond memories of the older generation and looking up to them. When I became a senior player, playing with some of them was amazing.
"I'm a very vibrant person so getting up the morning and getting ready, with the whole family involved, singing and dancing around the house, getting ready to go and then getting here, watching our children and having them there watching me as well is lovely.
"I really enjoy the home games and the atmosphere that gives you. It's the community members you don't see very often, the ones that are really loyal to the club, that will know how you played last week. You see them down the street and they're asking about how your team went.
"They set up their chairs from the start of the day and they're there to support not only the senior teams but the junior teams as well. It's really positive engagement and helps build up your self-esteem."
Howlong's approach to Odd Socks Day, acknowledging the past but striving to make a positive difference for the future, reflects the club's general ethos. New facilities, built at a cost of $1.8million and opened in the past year, have given the Spiders changing-rooms, unisex showers and toilets, an umpires' area and a large function room to be proud of, not to mention a gym which is open to the public during the week.
"We believe we've got the best ground in the league," president Jason Kohn said. "We're trying to take that next level of professionalism here. The town didn't have a gym, so we saw that as a bit of business opportunity.
"We had a big goal seven or eight years ago. We wanted to do it right, it was never going to be done 60 or 70%. If it took us a few extra years to get there, we were prepared for that.
"We showed the players through the rooms and you could see the look in their eyes, how good the rooms looked. We'll try to use it as a recruiting tool as well and to have a function room that can hold 200 people instead of 60 or 70, we should be able to keep more people around.
"We've got some great committee people, young and old, and it's a really good mix. We all get in and have a bit of a crack. The hierarchy isn't me up the top and the committee below, we're all as one."
Kohn is certainly unassuming, serving behind the bar in a green beanie. A father of three, he launched his own building company in 2008 so why take on the club presidency and its various responsibilities?
"It certainly wasn't planned!" he laughed. "I was lucky enough to play a fair bit of senior footy but at the age of 28, I had a couple of prolapsed discs and had to give it away. I did a bit of coaching in the reserves and junior footy and progressed into the committee side of it.
"It's a 12-month job now. As soon as you finish, it's trying to recruit for the next year and even before the year's over, you're trying to retain your current list. Once the season's over, you're in full swing trying to better yourselves for the following year. It's pretty much non-stop.
"At times, you've got to ignore your phone ringing and try to make time later. Jodie, my wife, is on the netball committee and she also coaches so it's certainly a juggling act.
"We're lucky that our kids are a bit older so we don't have to keep an eye on them too much on a game day any more."
With the umpire about to bounce the ball and start the second half of the reserves football, I don't want to keep my next interviewee long. Don Flegg, 78, has notebooks filled with details of Howlong games going back to the 1970s but is still good enough to stop for a chat.
"The older ones in Howlong know me as Mo," he said. "I got christened Mo and when I was about 18, I grew a mo. The mo didn't last long but the name stuck.
"Not everybody likes football but I love it. I just turned up to training one day. The best coach I played for was Billy King.
"There was one occasion when we were playing Brocklesby at Brocklesby and I had a bit of a cold. I went to Billy and said 'I don't think I'm good enough to play today.' He said 'you'll be right.'
"Anyway, we were all gathered in at three-quarter time and Billy said 'Fleggy came to me today and said he wasn't fit to play. I hope he's crook every week!'
"I just like watching footy. There's a lot of new people here now but it's still special for me."
Ian 'Ribs' Doolan doesn't quite match Mo for longevity but he's as well-known as anyone around the club. A former Spiders president, he now does goal umpiring for the seniors but first things first, what's the story behind the nickname?
"We were playing against Jindera and in the second quarter, a good mate of mine - a bit more solid than me - was coming through and I just lifted my elbow at the wrong time," he said. "His head hit me and broke my ribs. It was very painful - I was out for a while.
"I built a house out here in 1976 and I've been involved ever since.
"It's a magnificent club and a magnificent community. They all chip in and help. When we've got juniors coming up and they represent the town at Riverina or state level, we all chip in because otherwise it's a financial burden on the parents.
"I love the people here. The footy club made me a life member in 2012 and I still do whatever I can."
Like Ribs, vice-president Shaun McCormack gives up part of his Saturday to volunteer as an umpire. He's already officiated in the thirds clash by the time I find him watching his wife playing netball.
"You're always going to make some incorrect decisions and you've got to wear that," McCormack said. "Coaches and players certainly don't mind letting you know.
"I've been part of the Howlong footy club since the mid-80s. It's a club where everyone meets through the winter and it's massive to have that interaction - not only adults but for the juniors to get out and play a team sport.
"With the new facilities, we're able to provide an environment befitting this day and age. The culture of the club is very important to us, making sure everyone has the chance to get out there and play a game."
With the senior games fast approaching, Bruce Shelley prints me off a team sheet from another room inside the impressive new complex.
"This is so important for Howlong, especially with our community getting a bit younger," he said. "This used to be a retiree area but we seem to have picked up a lot of younger people.
"Over the years, this place has just meant football but now, with this extra area, it means a lot more to the community."
Shelley's wife runs the canteen and his daughter, Sarah, serves as the club treasurer.
"As soon as people heard I was an accountant, they wanted me to be the treasurer so that's how I got my foot in the door," she smiled. "I'd never even written out a cheque before so I've learned heaps being involved.
"I love footy and I'm very passionate about the community.
"I grew up playing junior netball here.
"We used to have steps up to the lolly window so that's probably my earliest memory. This place has changed so much.
"We're very lucky. We've got a lot of passionate volunteers who care about the long-term future of our club and our community."
IN OTHER NEWS
This year's Odd Socks Day has raised more than ever before, around $5,500. On one of the coldest days of the year so far, that statistic alone bears testament to how much a progressive club like Howlong means to its locality.
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