It was not only a big week on the court for the Mount Gambier Pioneers, but also off it as the club presented life memberships to two of its longest and loyal servants.
The players who wow the crowd each game night at the Icehouse can only do what they do if even more people off the court pour in a mountain of energy to make it happen.
Two of the biggest pushers behind the team are Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men’s coach Richard Hill and long-time volunteer Michael Aschberger, who have both been presented with life memberships.
Aschberger first volunteered in 2009, undertaking a statistician role which he continued to perform until the end of the 2019 season.
With the Pioneers entry into the NBL1, the team was forced to appoint a Game Night Chair and the experienced ‘statsman’ was the top choice and he continues to diligently complete duties every time Mount Gambier arrives at the Icehouse.
Mount Gambier Pioneers president Tom Kosch said Aschberger was a quiet achiever, though his recognition is richly deserved.
“The Pioneers are largely a volunteer-based organisation with many volunteers who have contributed hugely to our basketball Club over our 34-year history and Michael is a selfless volunteer,” he said.
“Without his contribution over many years our game night operation would have been extremely difficult.”
Life-long basketball player Aschberger relocated from Adelaide to the Blue Lake city in 2006 and was looking for ways to connect with the game and jumped at the chance of recording the stats for Mount Gambier’s national team.
“I have always played socially with friends, but my skill-set was not up Pioneers scratch and I wanted to be involved, he said.
“I did not know about the Pioneers when I arrived and found out I could volunteer through a friend I made at work and fell into it.
“There was a caller and computer operator to record all the key stats in a basketball game and give the coaches the box score at each break.
“Once I got used to it, it just became second nature.”
Although Aschberger now performs a different role, he is still enjoying every game and even gets the odd chance to record the odd foul or score.
“It has been good sitting in one of the best seats in the house and I am still doing stats this year,” he said.
“But it is fun to pick up new skills and a position.
“As game night chair I am pretty much a liaison between the umpires and whoever is on the bench, interpreting what the umpires are signalling and provide the information to the bench.
“You can still enjoy the game but you need to maintain a level of professionalism.”
Aschberger said he intends on being part of the Pioneers family for a long time to come because he feels at home with the team.
“There are always smiling faces and they have helped provide a family-like atmosphere with everyone from volunteers, board members and players,” he said.
“I have never had an issue with anyone, so it is a wonderful organisation to be involved with and we are always looking for more volunteers to step in.”
The other life member recipient is one of the most recognisable faces in the club.
Since being signed as head coach in November 2011 Hill has effectively utilised his wealth of experience coaching at all levels of basketball and football to bring a winning culture to the Pioneers and become one of the most respected leaders in the game.
Reflecting on the achievement, the coach said it was more of a sign about the team’s success rather than his as an individual across the last decade.
“It means we have had a fair bit of success and the club does not want to move me on,” he said.
“I value it because it’s a great club with a lot of great people.
“The other life members have been tremendous contributors over a long period of time.
“It is more of a reflection of how the team has performed which has enabled me to keep doing what I love doing.
“The most important thing is the next win – and hopefully a championship – and the time I have had here has been very good fun.”
Hill has coached the club for a highly successful decade which includes five-straight SEABL conference titles and said everyone wearing Pioneers colours had been through a lot.
“When I first got here the crowds were pretty poor and we were lucky to get 150-200 people here and sponsorship was a battle,” he said.
“But the club worked tirelessly and all of those things came together and people started watching us as we started winning.
“After playing five national finals in a row we ‘ran into a bus’ when the competition wanted to get rid of us.
“That was massive for the club, but we fought our way through it and did not lose sight of where we wanted to be.
“We now have a women’s team, so there has been so much growth in every area, but the one constant has been the support from the community which has been outstanding.
“That enables us to do what we do.”
Kosch said the club would never forget the impact Hill has made.
“All Pioneers supporters are very aware of what Richard has achieved on court while he has been in Mount Gambier,” he said.
“Richard’s competitiveness and willingness to find a way to bring the most out of his teams and individual players is admirable.
“He is a true leader and we are extremely fortunate to have benefited from his contribution to our club over this time.”