THE term ‘foster carer’ doesn’t sit well with Sue Lovett.
A boy she took in eight years ago is part of her family.
He arrived aged 10 after spending four years of his young life in a Mildura group home.
And he jumped at the chance to live with Lovett in Geelong before moving with her to Heywood in year nine.
That boy is AFL draft hopeful Jamaine Jones – a creative goalsneak who loves to lay crunching tackles and has overcome tough personal challenges to give himself a chance of achieving his dream.
Jones is now 18. He graduated this year, completing his VCAL certificate at Heywood District Secondary College while juggling football commitments with TAC Cup club North Ballarat Rebels.
He calls Lovett “Mum” and rates her influence – and tough love – as important factors in giving himself the chance to play football at a high level.
“She is bossy. Straight to the point, she is,” Jones said, tongue-in-cheek.
Lovett believes family is one in, all in. Her children – Alinta, 30, Stephen, 28, Aaron, 20, and Kiah, 16, – have embraced those who have come to live in their house over the years.
“I hate even saying that word ‘foster care’. When you have other kids, you treat them the same,” she said.
“I thought it was really hard at the start with Jamaine because he did have ADHD and I was thinking ‘oh my god, how and I going to deal with this kid?’
“But we stuck it out and my kids are a big part of it, accepting other kids into our house.
“He plays in basketball carnivals with my older boys and they get photos together. They accept him.”
It was on the court where Jones developed his sense of team – a trait which helped him become a Heywood premiership player at 16 and encouraged North Ballarat Rebels to play him in his top-age season.
Lovett was his basketball coach and taught him lessons the hard way.
“I never used to pass it. She sat me down on the bench and said ‘you’re not playing until you pass it’,” Jones said.
“I was like ‘OK, fair enough’.”
Lovett is Jones’ biggest fan and critic rolled into one.
She watched from the sidelines as he starred for the Lions in their 2014 South West District grand final win over Tyrendarra, earning best-on-ground honours.
A workmate from Ambulance Victoria came over to speak to Lovett during the clash.
“I said ‘I’m watching my boy’ and he goes ‘what number’ and he guessed it,” she said.
“He goes ‘best on ground for sure’ and I go ‘you reckon?’ because I am his biggest critic probably.
“His tackles are just unreal. He is a brilliant footballer, there’s no doubt.
“He’s pretty versatile. You can put him anywhere and he’ll do the job that he’s given.”
Jones can remember the first time he played football.
He lined up for Geelong league junior outfit Belmont after moving in with the Lovetts.
“I didn’t know a thing about it, played my first game and loved it,” Jones said.
“My first goal. I stuck my arm out, the sun was out and I couldn’t even see anything and the ball landed there, I marked it, turned around and snapped it. That was a pretty good day.”
People both from inside and outside the football bubble have played major roles in Jones’ development.
He thrived at the smaller Heywood school after starting his secondary education at Oberon College.
The North Ballarat, Heywood and Portland football clubs – he joined the latter for the 2016 season in a bid to play in a stronger competition – have also had a positive impact.
As has his Standing Tall mentor, Portland man Andrew Eade.
Eade first met Jones when he was 15 and was meant to spend one hour a week with the teenager.
Those visits have expanded to include day-long trips each Tuesday to hang out.
“A lot of people said ‘you should send him to St Pat’s (College in Ballarat)’ and I said ‘no, I’m not sending him away,” Lovett said.
“One, I didn’t want him to have any insecurities and think I didn’t want him here. That’s the worst thing you can do in out of home care, is send them somewhere else.
“Boarding school, educationally, I think would have been too hard for him. Here it’s a smaller school and they built a program around him which suited him, so he could have his footy days off.
“The school’s been so supportive. We wouldn’t have got that in Geelong with such a big school with over 1000 kids. There is no way they would have been able to do what Heywood’s done.”
Jones would train with either the Lions or Tigers on Tuesday nights this season before driving the 236 kilometres to Ballarat for training on Thursdays.
The commitment paid off. He earned senior interleague selection in May, booting three goals in a Hampden league best-on-ground display against Ovens and Murray, and played in the AFL young guns match after the regular season. And he was one of the first picked for the Rebels’ best 22.
The zippy left-foot small forward – he ran a three-second 20-metre sprint at the AFL state combine – was also rewarded with midfield time.
Jones credits his adoptive brother Stephen for helping him become a more rounded footballer.
Lovett agrees. And again it’s that sense of family which prevails.
“You can always tell when Stephen’s gone out and spoken to him, because he’ll just come out and kill it,” she said.