By GREG WHITE
THE Sawtell Panthers first life member is not turning his back on football.
Kerry Hales is merely stepping down from two years in the presidential chair to a less pressured position on the committee benches.
"The time had come for someone younger to be in charge," Hales announced.
"I first spoke to Mark Maynard about taking over the job six months ago and he's the ideal type of young administrator we need to progress the game."
Hales is an original from the birth of the club in 1970.
As secretary in 1971-72, his efforts were so noteworthy he was made a life member (with Billy Perkins) two years later.
Over the years there were duties at Group level.
Chairman of the judiciary, referees appointment board and selectors panel, delegate to North Coast Division and Country Rugby League, and management of various representative squads.
His first stint as president came in 1990 before a return to the chair in 2004, a period he described as "extremely difficult, but rewarding."
After so many years a Panther man, Hales is a fountain of stories about the formative seasons.
Especially one that sheds new light on the time-honoured rivalry with the Comets.
"When we opened for business it was the time of the infamous transfer fees," he remembered.
"Sawtell spent $3000 with Coffs buying junior talent when that was big money.
"Probably put them on a financial footing they didn't believe possible."
For a moment, it's hard to know if Hales is joking or not.
"We needed some established talent so we paid Coffs $1000 for Kevin, Bob and John McKay.
"What a windfall for the opposition," he said, this time laughing.
With such a background, Hales is the perfect candidate for opinions even if the answers make noses disjointed.
"Employing Craig Wallace was one of our best moves," he said.
"Wallace brings a professional coaching standard every club needs but we need to do more."
"The mindset of the whole club has to change once we get to the semi finals.
"You don't win a comp in the minor rounds.
"There is a mental scar that has to be recognised and adressed."
For Hales, bowing out this year against Woolgoolga was a bigger tragedy than the epic final defeat by Macksville in 2004.
"That day the eventual premiers got us.
"This time, we went out quietly to a team on the rise."
Of the players wearing Panther colours over the years, Hales remenbers the Cleal brothers as among the best.
"It's almost a quarter century since they played and the stories about them still circulate," he said.
"Some good, others can raise eyebrows."
In the modern era, Hales has a special reverence for Craig Wallace but highlights Glen Pinkstone as close to outstanding in the formative years.
"Glen was a shooting star," Hales said.
"He could have been anything.
"Only played a short time before giving the game completely away."
Pinkstone is still seen driving his truck around the area, with Hales for one, wondering what might have been.
Hales sees many challenges ahead for the local game.
"Sponsors are not only hard to get but holding them is twice as difficult," he said.
"Group 2 should also look at restricting it's boundaries."
This observation is likely to be controversial until Hales explains.
"I know we travel less distance than other regions but they don't have to negotiate the Pacific Highway.
"We face a death trap when we go away on Sunday and it's a wonder we haven't already had a tragedy among one of our clubs."
The rush by young players to join city clubs also concerns him.
"Not only do they go away underprepared for a new life but they tend to burn out early.
"They get pushed to perform with some of them used as cannon fodder."
Hales hasn't ruled out a return to an executive position but says it's highly unlikely.
He feels the time has come to enjoy the game.
"Think of me as an elder statesman behind the scenes," he said.