The underdogs

“Come on girls, show us what you’ve got!! Don’t let her get past you, Anna! Jump higher, Erin, HIGHER!!” Gasping and dripping sweat, we race madly around the netball court, desperate to show what we can do. We run, we throw, we shoot, we defend; we work our guts out. It’s a redundant investment of energy as we’re all assured a spot on a team, but we’re eager to do our very best.

Netball 1988: Kate, Inece, Colleen, Kelly, Anneleise, Mandy, Tina, Simone, Sharon

It’s 1988 and the selection for the Saint Augustine’s netball teams is taking place. Seven players make a team so with eighteen girls we’ve got two teams – allowing for a couple of spares. The four notorious netball mums are here … along with their cut-throat competitive streak.  They form the selection committee and screech at us from the sidelines.

We finish displaying our netball prowess and inelegantly slurp on sliced orange quarters, the juices dribbling down our gawky eleven-year-old faces. We wait for the verdict; which team will we be in?

The selection committee whispers together, occasionally nodding and jotting on a notepad.  After fifteen minutes the “Queen Mum” gathers us in the centre of the court.

 Marie: Thanks girls. Good work. We’ve decided the two teams so listen carefully. Team 1! Beth! Angela! Sheree! Belinda! Erin! Anna! Rebecca! Jane! And Monique!

The popular, the pretty, the prize-winning and the perfect are all present. And all four daughters of the mothers on the selection committee are in this team.  I look over at Claudine who smiles knowingly at me. There’s supposed to be an even distribution of skills on the two teams, but it’s glaringly obvious that one team has been composed of winners and the other of losers. This is the Alpha team.

 Marie: And now Team 2! Kate! Inece!  Colleen! Kelly! Anneleise! Mandy! Tina! Simone! And Claudine!

The “other” team.  The Scraps. The unsporty, the uncoordinated, the uncool and the unattractive ….

Both teams are allocated a coach. Sheree’s mother (slim, pretty Tracey) will coach Team 1. Overweight, frumpy Sharon will coach Team 2 …. from her wheelchair.  Belinda smirks at me.

The twenty-week netball season commences.  We play our first game. And win. Only we don’t just win, we slaughter Dawes Road Primary 42-3. We play our next game.  Haslem Street Primary.  And win.  36-3. We play the “Alpha” Saint Aug’s team.  And win.  We play Tongala, Merrigum and Girgarre.  And win.  Within six games we are undefeated and the team to beat.

Kate’s Dad (in the blonde wig) and my Dad (in the brunette wig)

The combination of our team is inexplicably magical. The odd-ball bunch of misfits fits.  Kelly, as Goal Attack, rarely misses a goal.  Me, as Goal Defence, rarely lets one through.  Sprightly Kate, Inece and Tina flit about the court like nimble pixies, getting the ball to where it needs to be and preventing it being where it shouldn’t.

For nineteen weeks we train every Tuesday and play every Saturday at the local outdoor netball courts.  We win every game.  Then comes the big day; the Grand Final.

One-by-one we arrive, greeted by Sharon.  Her two slobbering rottweilers are dressed in yellow t-shirts – our mascots.  We’re relaxed, not an ounce of tension among us. We’ll win, we know.  But we aren’t arrogant.  We’ll have fun. We’ll laugh.  The games never really matter to us – we just enjoy ourselves.  We’re a mixture of adolescents and pre-adolescents, but while we play netball we’re all joyful, uncomplicated children.

We hear a crowd roar with laughter from a distant court near the car-park.  There are sixteen courts with a game taking place on every one …. so literally hundreds of people look over at the commotion.  I see the cause of the ruckus and with horror immediately look at Kate.  Jesus Christ –our fathers have come dressed as cheerleaders!  Complete with skirts, wigs, balloon-boobs and pom-poms!  Kate and I are both mortified … but even we have to admit it’s funny.  And we’re all caught up in the alchemy that has taken place this season.  The losers are the winners.

And the Grand Final?  We won that too.

Afterword

It was tremendous that our success defied expectations, but I always felt sorry for the other team.  They were, almost without exception, an equally nice group of girls and it must have been difficult for them to have experienced the horrible feeling that accompanies the failure to meet expectations.  Individually, most of them went on to be exceptional netball players during their teenage years.   I guess it’s just another example of how the performance of a team isn’t always about having the most skilled or talented people, but about how they function together.

After the afterword

Since writing this, I’ve been contacted by a few people from school (including some of those who played netball with me – both in this team and others). One sent me some photos so I’ve decided to add them!

Anneleise, Kate’s Dad, Colleen, Simone, Kate, Inece, Tina, Kelly, My Dad, Mandy

Kate, Sharon, Mandy, Tina, Colleen

The game in action!

Kate (C), Tina (WA)

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13 responses to “The underdogs

  1. I love this story but I love the picture of my ‘little Simone’ more!!! I’m printing it off and keeping it in my wallet….

    • 1. It was the eighties, so you have to forgive my hair
      2. I was at that ugly no-longer-a-child, but not-an-adult stage
      3. You can see that I still have glimmer of hope in my eyes. I was so certain life would turn out well … sigh
      4. You’d have loved me just as much then as you do now … despite my flaws! 🙂

  2. It’s a great story Simone. Still one of my favourite dress up times. Your mothers weren’t keen and we were a bit worried we’d put you off but very glad we went through with it. Please say hello to your family Simone.

    • One of my favourite dress-up times”?! That does make it sound like you’ve had an awful lot of dress-up times Geoff! It was great that you did it. In fact I spoke to Dad a couple of days ago and said, “There’s no way that was your idea … it had to have been Geoff”. He said, “Oh god yes. Of course”. I replied, “But I bet you jumped at it as soon as he suggested it?” He replied, “Oh yeah! I loved it!” 🙂

      I’ll definitely pass on your regards. I hope you’re well and it’s lovely to hear from you.

  3. I love it, great memories. I can’t believe you remember all the details. Your Dad and I were a bit worried we’d put you off your game.

  4. Maddie Boyle-Wallison

    OMG, well that has taken me back to a foregone era, I almost felt like I was back at the Ky netball courts again. Loved it! Cheers, from Sunny Qld. Maddie xo

    • I loved my netball, but I suspect I wasn’t ever as competitive as the Boyles – I’m not sure anyone was! 😉

      Simone (from a surprisingly bright and sunny day in London).

      Oh and be sure to let Jillian see this blog-post as she’ll remember those courts very clearly.

  5. Decadency back to childhood eh?!? Happens to us all eventually. I’m alread well down that path, and it looks like you are just beginning. Well done you! And welcome to middle age Simone. Don’t fight it! Just switch over to Radio 4, pull your trousers up just that little bit higher, slip on those ‘developed by Nasa’ shoes that appear in the back pages of the Sunday supplements, and let it all wash over you….

    Now what did you say about winning?!? I just forgot 🙂

  6. This brings me so much joy – the fact that this story is not just in my head but yours (and probably the other girls) too. The stuff of a hollywood teenage movie for sure!
    I cannot believe you can remember all those details! I totally forgot about the rottweilers and do you remember the afterparty at Sharon’s? She had us all sleep over and we watched Dirty Dancing. I have a photo of us all with our Dads – I can email it to you if you haven’t got it.
    Thankyou Simone!!!!!!

    • I’m so glad you liked it – I’ve been wondering what your reaction to it would be 🙂

      Ah yes, the after-party. And she gave us all a scented coat-hanger (there was a lavender bag attached to each one – I still have it). I was actually thinking about what a great coach she was … she positioned us absolutely perfectly which is a big reason as to why we were so (let’s face it) AWESOME!

      It truly is a Hollywood story though. You couldn’t make it up.

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