MANY rugby league fans will be familiar with the names of star Queenslanders Julian O’Neill, Matt Sing, PJ Marsh, and more recently Ben Hunt and Corey Oates, but what about Steve Parle?
He’s likely unknown to most, even though he’s had a hand in the success of these champions and many others.
Steve Parle is also a man thousands of former students in and around Rockhampton will never forget.
The long-serving teacher, who has influenced generations of young people in the classroom and on the football field, has retired with only one regret.
“I will miss the students,” he said as he farewelled The Cathedral College in Rockhampton at the end of last year.
“I have been very lucky that after 38 years I still enjoy being with young people.”
Steve, with his wife Regina, was moving to Brisbane to spend more time with family especially their grandchildren.
He will be involved with developing younger players for his beloved Broncos National Rugby League club, building on a role he has had with the club for many years.
It’s a move that brings him full circle because it was coaching junior rugby league that gave him a taste of teaching.
That was in 1972 when he was coaching Brothers’ under-13s in Rockhampton.
They won the premiership that year and were victorious for the next four years.
Steve coached that team and the St Anthony’s Primary School team on Friday afternoons as a 17-year-old, and it was an experience that ultimately directed him towards teaching, a vocation he remained loyal to for 38 years.
St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ College (CBC) principal at the time Br Brian Grenier, who dined every Sunday with other Christian Brothers at the Brothers Rugby League Club where Steve worked to put himself through study, gave him his start in teaching.
He started at CBC in 1977 on the site of where The Cathedral College now stands, after graduating from the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education with a Diploma of Teaching.
Steve was a foundation staff member of The Cathedral College when it opened in 1991 and was instrumental in its formation.
He stepped down as assistant principal for students at the end of last year.
In that role, which he had held since 1994, he was responsible for the pastoral care of students.
Rockhampton diocesan director of Catholic Education Leesa Jeffcoat, in her address at the college’s recent academic awards night gave an insight into Steve as a teacher from her days as principal there.
“Steve treated every student the same and in all his dealings with them they were treated with fairness and with their best interests always uppermost in mind,” Miss Jeffcoat said.
“He never prejudged students and he was always prepared to give them not only just a second chance but also a third and fourth chance.
“In return the students would do anything for Mr Parle.”
Known affectionately as “Parlie” by many in Rockhampton, he knows he has done his job well when past students greet him as “Mr Parle”.
“Respect is the one lesson I hope I have passed on to my students,” he said.
“I have a great sense of achievement when I run into kids I taught 35 years ago, now grown men, and they call me Mr Parle.
“The respect is still there after all these years, although it is a little embarrassing.”
He said the former students often reminded him of a time when he “chased PE gear up for them so they wouldn’t miss out”.
“Little things that were the big things for them at the time, obviously made an impression,” he said.
“My mentor was John Miles, a teacher at both CBC and The Cathedral College, who set a fine example in pastoral care of students.
“He was always fair and consistent with the students and tough when he needed to be.”
Majoring in Physical Education, Steve introduced the newly developed subject to CBC, an all-boys’ school from Year 5 to 12, and he soon became popular with the students.
By this time he had been coaching for a few years and already knew many of the students from his premiership-winning team including Pat O’Driscoll, Gerard Hoolihan, Michael Crow and Mick Hoare.
Steve also taught Broncos chief executive officer Paul White and former Broncos coach Anthony Griffin, who is now coaching Penrith.
In Steve’s role as Capricornia Schoolboys’ coach, the first players he recommended to the fledgling Broncos club were John Driscoll and Sid Domic in 1990. The Broncos signed both of them and employed Steve as the club’s Central Queensland recruiting officer.
Over the years Steve coached future NRL players Julian O’Neill, Matt Sing, PJ Marsh, Darren Mapp, Ben Hunt, Tim Glasby and Corey Oates.
These were unexpected achievements for a youngster who grew up in Mildura, in country Victoria, where, in AFL heartland, he was more accustomed to kicking goals between four sticks instead of two.
“I’d barely heard of rugby league when my family moved here (to Rockhampton) in 1970 to run the Grand Hotel in Bolsover Street,” he said. “AFL was only just getting off the ground and wasn’t very competitive (in Rockhampton).
“I was approached by Brothers’ coach John Meehan and joined the under-15s for training.
“I could catch and kick but was no good at tackling. I learnt how in the forward pack and stayed there for the next 11 years.”
For Steve, teaching and coaching were inseparable.
“Coaching kids in sport has made me a much better teacher,” he said. “It is good for teachers to engage with students outside the classroom, not necessarily sport, as you build a stronger rapport, enjoy watching young people develop and it keeps you young.”
Steve has used this connection with young people to teach successive generations of students Health and Physical Education, maths and, most consistently over the years, religion.
“My last lesson with the Year 12 religion class was very significant, as they were the last of the RE classes I have taught every year since becoming a Catholic in 1978,” he said.
“Fr Terry Loth was my instructor and he married Regina and I here in St Joseph’s Cathedral the following year.”
Steve and Regina, who also has retired from teaching in Catholic Education, raised three sons, Gerard, Ryan and Justen.
Gerard is a strength and conditioning coach for Broncos, Ryan works in the music industry in Melbourne and Justen is the sports co-ordinator for Emmaus College, Rockhampton.
Steve is a strong advocate for Catholic Education, as his long association attests to.
“There is a very special culture that exists here (The Cathedral College), built on faith values, that is consistent over the years regardless of changes in staff,” he said.
“It is responsible, through dedicated commitment to pastoral care, for creating a safe, learning environment for all students, encouraging all to be their very best and to reach their potential.
“Pastoral care builds healthy relationships between staff and students, and between students themselves. This is the key to teaching where each member is respected and valued.
“I am very fortunate to have taught for so long and, despite the challenges of a changing society, I still enjoy being with young people and that is what I will miss most upon retiring.”
Steve was recognised for his outstanding contribution to Catholic Education last year when he was presented with a Catholic Education Week state award by Queensland Governor General Paul de Jersey.
Miss Jeffcoat, at The Cathedral College academic awards night, praised and thanked Steve and Regina for their service.
“The legacy of Steve’s dedicated and loyal service to Catholic Education and to the noble profession of teaching is successive generations of students who graduated from a Steve Parle classroom as good, decent, values-based, faith-centred people with a love of their God, a love of family, a desire to help others and a passion to live life in all its fullest,” she said. “I am very grateful to Steve for his loyalty, his encouragement, his wisdom but most of all for his long and enduring friendship.
“In saying that, I know Steve would be the first to admit that he could have achieved very little in life without the love and support of his wife Regina.
“I wish them both every one of God’s many blessings in the years ahead.”