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OP-ED: It's Game-on for a Bunch of Really Good Sports

Thursday 10 December 2020, The Examiner

Most of us know someone who plays football, soccer, netball, basketball, maybe tennis or hockey. But how many people do you know who play softball? Softball is much like the American sport of baseball, played with a larger diamond-shaped field with two teams of nine players and one run is scored for each home base reached during a one-and-a-half-hour game. It’s a great sport.

The Northern Tasmania Softball Organisation provides opportunities for players to participate in fastpitch softball from the age of 5 upwards and caters to everyone, regardless of their sporting abilities. It’s all about loving the game and having a good time.

Fastpitch softball is played mostly on Saturdays at Churchill Park, Invermay, with the season going right through the summer months. At present, there are two teams governed by the NTSA: the Eagles and the Saints, both of whom field teams in each division.

I have recently become a patron of the NTSA, so I’ve delved a bit into the origins of softball in northern Tasmania. Softball has been played in an organized fashion in Tasmania, with team competitions being played since at least the nineteen-seventies, but it wasn’t until the Northern Tasmania Softball Association was founded that the myriad of teams were able to organize into a more formal competition.

For a number of years, softball was played at erstwhile Ogilvie Park, which we now know as the site for Bunnings north Launceston. For a time, school teams were involved on Saturday mornings, but that petered out with the increasing school-mandated sports programs that developed over the years.

Softball was contested at four Olympics from 1996 to 2008 with the International Olympic Committee then removing it from the Olympic program. The Australian women’s national softball team, known as Aussie Spirit won a medal at all four Olympics and it is good to see that softball has made a comeback, being included as a medal sport at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

Thanks to the NTSA getting their message out through advertising on radio and social media, and working on growth and retention for the association not just for the new players, but the older players too, they have expanded their member base with 13 new players in the 2019-20 year. What keeps people coming back is the fact that the NTSA is not just a sporting club, but a tightknit group of mates that does not just play the game, but contributes to the community as well. Having been to watch games, it is like a group of friends having a good time. A great atmosphere.

Many people who play the sport, and join the club, stay for the long term. Sheryl Burnie, whose commitment to the sport spans some 38 years, was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2019 for service to the sport and to the club – an extremely worthy recipient. With her prior softball experience and expertise, Sheryl joined the Saints Softball Club in 1992 as a player, going on to become A-Grade and junior coach as well as filling the positions of President and Secretary, also coaching school teams.

Ann Gardner, a player for the Eagles, has also had an extended career in softball, recently retiring after 50 years, and still a strong supporter. Her experience and knowledge of the sport and its history in Tasmania is an invaluable resource which she has passed on to her daughter Eliesha who is a strong advocate of the game.

I recently had the honour of awarding Life Membership to Kaylene Woodcock-Kemp, who has given the NTSA much of her time, and shared her softball knowledge and skills with many junior players, some of whom have gone on to play in the senior competition.

NTSA President Brenda Hanlon says that, whilst they are a small organisation, they combine that with lots of passion for the sport and take great pride in recognizing the exceptional work of many of their volunteers. I couldn’t agree more.

Earlier this year, the Northern Tasmania Softball Association was recognised by Softball Australia with the award of Homeplate status which is awarded to clubs and associations who demonstrate peak performance not just in the game itself, but in their ability to manage itself and its players, grow its members and retain and skill up their longer-term members. It’s a truly incredible achievement and so very well-deserved.

If you are interested in softball, I encourage you to head online to the NTSA website, where you can find a wealth of information about how to get involved, or you can drop down to Churchill Park on a Saturday for a look, with men playing at 9 am, younger teams at 11 am and women at 1 pm. It’s a fantastic and fun game, with a group of wonderful and welcoming people.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC


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