When mainstream schooling wasn’t working for Jai Downing, he enrolled in Chisholm’s Sports Academy. It was the best decision he could have made.

For Jai Downing, football is his life.

Jai captained all throughout his junior football career, including interleague teams and teams heading to New Zealand and Tasmania.

He loves everything about it, from the competition on the field to the whole community that comes with being part of a footy team.

“I love the team environment,” says Jai. “If you have a good team and a good coach, then everyone gets around each other. I’ve made lifelong mates through football.”

When mainstream schooling wasn’t working for Jai, he decided to apply for Chisholm’s Sports Academy football program.

The academy program is designed for talented, aspiring young athletes to reach their athletic potential while completing their senior secondary studies or while pursuing a career in the Sport and Recreation industry at certificate or diploma level.

The beauty of the program is that you can train and study at the same time – something that really appealed to Jai.

While studying, Jai spent three days a week doing morning training sessions with AFL elite coaches like former AFL player and coach Noel ‘Kelly’ O’Donnell, followed by study in the afternoon. The other two days were spent studying at Chisholm.

Jai also worked at an Aquatic Centre to save up for a car.

“I absolutely loved being able to go out on my breaks, rather than being stuck at school sitting around waiting for the next class,” he says. “The flexibility and self-management were really good.”

At the end of completing VCAL Senior, Jai obtained his Certificate III in Sport and Recreation, then went on to do the Dual Diploma of Sport and Recreation Management/Diploma of Sport (Development and Coaching).

Jai shone during his time at Chisholm and was nominated as Secondary Student of the Year at the 2022 Chisholm Education Awards.

“Being nominated was an honour,” says Jai. “I’ve made lifelong friends at Chisholm and having exposure to elite AFL coaches was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve had a few other opportunities presented to me through those coaches too.”

Jai plans to do a Bachelor of Sports Science at Deakin University next.

“The end goal for me is to work as a strength and conditioning coach for the AFL or maybe go to America and possibly do it for a uni football team,” says Jai.

He encouraged other young people who were struggling in a mainstream setting to consider taking a different pathway.

“Chisholm was a lot better than mainstream school for me,” says Jai. “With mainstream school, I didn’t like the uniform and the idea that you had to do things a certain way with VCE.

“For the university course I wanted to do, I only needed two subjects in VCE to do it, but mainstream school forced me to do another three subjects that I would have flunked, and my ATAR would have dropped massively.

“Going into VCAL and then into this dual diploma accelerated and made the journey to university much more fun.

“From being a primary school kid all the way up to early high school, you’re told high school and then uni is the only way, but there are other ways. I’m definitely on one of those pathways and loving it.”