DENVER — The Denver Bulldogs celebrated the end of the 2019 season in style on Saturday, Nov. 9 with the club’s Gala Awards night at the historic University Club in downtown Denver.

Players, partners, alumni and even parents from as far away as Perth reveled in the chance to show off their best threads in supremely high-class surroundings, with the dinner and awards presentation being held in the University Club’s College Room, a sizeable ballroom dating from 1923 that the Bulldogs had no problems filling to absolute capacity.

In a slight departure from the tradition of past years, the Gala Awards didn’t include the usual comedic skits and videos of what used to be known as PRAP Night (Player Review and Presentations). The more light-hearted section of the PRAP Night tradition was moved two weeks earlier this year to be included as part of the club’s first-ever “Silly Saturday” celebration, leaving the Gala Awards with an increased air of elegance.

The night’s proceedings had an extra gleam from the bright silver presence of the Men’s Division I National Tournament runners-up medals and Men’s Central Championships Division II trophy, reminding attendees of the success the Bulldogs experienced on the field during the season.

The highlight of the evening, however, was long-time Lady Bulldog Anna Thexton being inducted as a Life Member of the club to a rousing standing ovation by all in attendance. Becoming a Life Member is a distinction reserved for members of the club that exhibit prolonged and enduring dedication and service to the organization, with Thexton becoming the 18th Life Member and only the second woman among the ranks.

After the evening kicked off with a three-course meal that featured some Australian fine-dining staples (Chicken Parmigiana and Sirloin Steak), emcee Billy McDivitt warmed up the microphone for the awards portion of the evening.

Club President Steve Noble began with a recap of the season for each of the three full teams the Bulldogs fielded this season. The men’s first division team witnessed a momentous turnaround from an 0-3 nationals performance a year ago to entering nationals as the No. 3 seed and finishing as national runners-up this season. The women’s team endured a trying season that saw a large turnover of players, but ended with sending a full team to nationals that included a very tight-knit group of dedicated rookies. Finally, Noble lauded the men’s reserves team for continuing its transformation from a Division IV caliber team to a true reserves team in the mold of footy clubs in Australia, ending the season with the Central Region title and just short of entering the Division III Grand Final at nationals.

Noble concluded by accepting the opportunity to continue his presidency for at least one more year, which was popularly received among those in attendance, including a chant from the crowd of “four more years.”

The Men’s first division players were then called up to receive their national runners-up medals from captain Alex Mayberry. Mayberry later presented the men’s first division awards in the absence of both head coach Jarryd Watters and assistant coach Leigh McMahon.

Thexton and Tara Cilke did the honors of presenting the awards to the women’s team while coach Rich Mann presented to the award winners for the men’s reserves. (The full list of award winners is included below)

It was then club co-founder Paul Renouf’s turn to put the 2019 season into the greater context of the 21-year history of the club. From the humble beginnings of the first official kick-around by the founding members of the club “in a car park” in 1998, Renouf compared the progress of the club to some of the historic clubs in Australia, in particular drawing on the progress of Collingwood Football Club over the course of 127 years to a current paid membership of 85,000.

Renouf no doubt was expressing his hopes of the Denver Bulldogs enduring and continuing to expand long into the future. He punctuated his speech by displaying a comprehensive list he has been compiling of every player to take the field for the Bulldogs ever, including the date of their debut and their number of career games. The printed list extended almost to Renouf’s full height.

Renouf also recognized some key milestones that players on the club achieved this season. Reaching 50 games played for the men’s team were Michio McGrath, Troy Kirk and Brent Dowling, with Jeff Posey reaching 100 games played and the honor of keeping his on-field jersey. Thexton surpassed 50 games played for the women’s team, with her 54 games played the second most ever for the Lady Bulldogs.

Thexton inducted as Bulldogs’ 18th Life Member

Thexton’s initiation as a Life Member was left as a dramatic reveal to cap off the evening. Renouf detailed how he and his fellow Life Members have been considering the parameters they want to set for future inclusion as the club continues to evolve, stressing how service to the club should be weighted just as heavily overall games played. Seeing as the women’s team usually plays a lighter schedule than the men, the threshold of 100 games played was determined as not necessary in cases where other significant contributions to the club have been made, with Thexton a prime example.

Thexton first played for the club in 2007 as a teenager, since then earning a spot on the US National Team, participating in three of the Lady Bulldogs’ six national titles, acting as a board member, accruing the second-most games played of any Lady Bulldog in history and emerging this season as the team captain and a hugely steadying force through a trying time for the women’s team.

It was fitting that the club’s only previous female Life Member, Hallie Kastanek, was there to be the first person to congratulate Thexton. In total, 10 of the club’s Life Members were in attendance to welcome Thexton among their ranks.

Here is the full list of the evening’s awards:

Men’s Ones

Best Rookie – Derrik Hanson
Most Consistent – Daniel Duffield
Most Improved – Taylor Morseth
Best at Nationals – Daniel Duffield
Best and Fairest (American) – Taylor Morseth
Best and Fairest (Aussie) – Thomas Crameri
Coaches Award – Brad Mathers

Lady Bulldogs

Best Rookies – Shay Sulisz, Alexandra Benitez, Dot Wheeler
Most Consistent – Alexis Koo, Zoe Do
Most Improved – Megan Larson
Best Moment at Nationals – Jessica Lin, Shay Sulisz and Jen Wilson-Humphries’ scoring play
Best and Fairest – Val Gil
Coaches Award – Jennifer Elliott, Toria Baker
Oscar Award – Tara Cilke, Angela Graham

Men’s Reserves

Best Rookie – James Madsen
Most Consistent – Drew Wolfe
Most Improved – Alex Johnson
Best at Nationals – Brent Dowling
Best and Fairest – Brent Dowling
Coaches Award – Daniel Kerwin