Teen’s surprise birthday party transforms People First Stadium

by | Feb 12, 2024

Laser tag, face painting and a visit from a star AFL player… A Gold Coast mother has surprised her teenage daughter with a birthday party to remember after winning the chance to take over People First Stadium for a day.

Sandy Coppinger was chosen as one of three winners of a Heritage Bank competition offering a loan with a difference – the chance to borrow People First Stadium for a day for an event of their choosing.

To be in the running, entrants had to state in 25 words or less what they’d borrow the stadium for.

Mrs Coppinger’s planned to use the Gold Coast SUNS AFL club’s home ground to host a surprise birthday party for her 16-year-old daughter, Hayley, for whom AFL brings joy, and an escape from difficult times.

“Hayley struggles with disability and has had 13 surgeries in the last eight years, some of them gruelling and incredibly painful,” Mrs Coppinger said.

“She deserved an epic birthday party, and because she is a massive AFL fan, it was just perfect.”

And epic it was, with Hayley and friends enjoying fun activities including a game of outdoor laser tag, face painting and the chance to kick footballs around at the stadium. Making the party even more special was a surprise appearance from one of Hayley’s favourite players, the Gold Coast SUNS’ Brandon Ellis.

“To have Brandon there to see Hayley was just amazing,” Mrs Coppinger said. “He was so warm and genuine.

“It really was the most brilliant and special day. It was everything we could have hoped for Hayley, and more!”

The People First Stadium Loan competition marked the first time in Australia an opportunity to take over a major stadium like this was made available to the general public. Heritage Bank also chipped in up to $5,000 for each of the winners to help make their events a success.

“I appreciate the win so much; Hayley is just so deserving.” Mrs Coppinger said. “She has incredible empathy and kindness despite everything she goes through.

“It is an amazing competition and for Heritage Bank and the SUNS to offer us the prize is absolutely wonderful.

“Both Heritage and the SUNS have been in constant contact with me and treated us with such amazing kindness.”

People First Bank’s CEO Peter Lock said, “We’re thrilled to help create an unforgettable birthday party for Hayley through our stadium loan competition.

“The stadium is a more than a sporting venue. It’s a place where our community can come together to enjoy their passions and create lasting memories.

“Through our stadium partnership with the SUNS, we’re continuing to think outside the box to unlock even more ways to give back to our members and the community.

Last month, Marymount Primary School Year 6 girls AFL team enjoyed a dream footy experience with players from Gold Coast SUNS AFLW team as the first of the competition winners. The final winner, a Gold Coast running club, will enjoy a private training session on stadium grounds next year.


PHOTO: Sandy Coppinger and Michael Coen with daughters Michaela and Hayley, and Gold Coast SUNS player Brandon Ellis.


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