Chapter 10 - Nationals 1984-

Chapter 10  


From 1984 to the present softball has been characterized by growth in elite competitions in Australia and overseas. These generated a new confidence and a willingness to embrace new ideas and experiment with different ways of conducting and administering the sport.

National titles

For the first four decades softball in Australia was a sport for girls and women with males restricted to the non-playing roles of coaches, scorers and umpires. That changed dramatically in 1984 when the first national championship for Senior Men was held in Sydney with the victor’s trophy honouring John Reid who had undertaken much of the groundwork to get the ASF to recognise that men were serious about playing softball. Expansion was rapid with championships for the Under 19 Men introduced in 1989 followed by the Under 16 Boys in 1992. The Under 19 Men fought for the Nox Bailey Shield which recognized the efforts of Western Australian Nox Bailey to establish men’s club and interstate softball. The Under 16 Boys aimed to win the Arthur Allsopp Shield, an appropriate recognition for a Victorian who had given decades to coaching junior softball. There was a brief experiment with an Under 23 championship for women and men between 2003 and 2008. The trophies gave attention to two outstanding national players, Joyce Lester and Laing Harrow. For the 2011 championships the age divisions were amended to provide more opportunities for youngsters. The new divisions were Under 17, Under 19 and Senior. There is a possibility that an Under 15 championship may be introduced in the future.

Under 23 Women 2004

Back L->R: Lisa Dastlik, Christy Jones (vice capt), Sarah Croxford (capt), Sharon Bell, Amber Maxwell

Centre L->R: Jane McLaughlin (manager), Melissa Robertson (assist coach), Brooke Cooper, Claire Sonsee, Stacey Fuller,
Katie McLaughlin, Erin George,Chermai Clews, Kathryn Wylie (statistician), Karen Neil (coach)

Front L->R: Jodie Stevenson, Fiona Fowles, Marissa Bradshaw, Michelle Andrew, Jodie Sleth

Bat Girl (unknown

Under 23 Men 2006

Back L->R: Paul Harris, Liam Byrne, Andrew Havercroft, Michael Bolt, Mark Harris

Centre L->R: Alan Butler (manager), Nathan Barr, Jay Lavell, Shane Fraser, Brett Titterton, Brendon O’Byrne, Gary Butler (coach)

Front L->R: Rodney McGlew, Jason Garner, Taurean Williams, Luke Bonomi

Summer Olympic Games

Internationally softball had one major goal – to be included in the Summer Olympic Games. From the inception of the ISF and especially since the First Women’s World Championship in 1965, hopes were raised and then dashed. Hopes were high in the early 1980s when the Games were held in Los Angeles because softball was an American sport. It did not happen but the leaders of the ISF continued lobbying aiming to participating in Barcelona in 1992. The Barcelona Organising Committee supported softball’s inclusion as a demonstration rather than medal sport. Again, efforts were thwarted when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled in 1990 that this would not happen. Softball continued to argue its case stressing that is was the most suitable women’s sport to offer gender balance to baseball. Finally, in 1991 the IOC agreed to include softball as a medal sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. Australian softball gained further momentum in 1993 when Sydney won the right to host the Olympic Games in 2000. A bronze medal in Atlanta ensured that softball would be on the Games program in 2000. Softball was on the programme of the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympic Games but was deleted. The IOC was determined to reduce the Games to a more manageable size. Also, the 2012 London Organising Committee did not support softball. The ISF has, however, maintained an intense lobby for future reinstatement.

World Championships

While the Olympics were the pinnacle for women’s softball, the World Championships continued and grew. From six national championships, the ASF selected teams for four World Championships: Senior Women, Senior Men, Under 19 Women and Under 19 Men. The Senior Men’s championship commenced in 1966 but Australia did not participate until 1988. The Under 19 Men contested the Fourth World championship in 1992.  Interspersed between the Olympic Games and World Championships was an increasing array of international events. The Test Series between Australia and New Zealand became the South Pacific Classic. The ASF readily accepted invitations for the women’s team to participate in tournaments in North America and Asia and to a lesser extent in Europe. As well the ASF expanded its offerings focusing on events for younger players and maximizing usage of the Blacktown Stadium built for the Sydney Olympics. The International Friendship Series began in 2002 for Under 19 Women and Under 19 Men. The International Challenge Series began in 2005 for Under 23 women.  In her President’s Report in the 1988-89 Softball Australia Yearbook, Rosemary Adey spelled out the important link between an international focus and funding. ‘Our major sponsor is the Australian Sports Commission and it is no secret that international rankings plays a most important part in the level of funding received’. Adey was also well aware that there was additional funding available to Olympic and high performance sports so the world rankings on the Senior and Under 19 teams had to be improved.

Shorter National Championships

To ensure that Australian teams were competitive, the ASF worked towards structuring the national championships to be more like international events, that is, exposing potential team representatives to more intense, shorter competitions. Changes were also necessary to cope with the changing lifestyles. Most people could no longer spend a month each year attending a national championship. Costs had to be to reduced, too. Among the first changes was the shortening of the national championships. In 1971 President Esther Deason foreshadowed a reduction from 14 to 9 days. Each championship was conducted as a single round robin followed by a double elimination final. During the round robin each team played two double-headers, one back-to-back and the other with at least one match apart. The finals also involved two – or even three – matches on one day for a team working its way from a fifth or lower placing in the round robin to the preliminary final. The Senior championship was thus reduced to eight days – Saturday to Saturday, and the under age ones to seven days. By 1985 all three women’s national championships were played in January with the Senior women in the first or second week followed by the Under 19s and Under 16s often in the third week but at different venues. Rest days, picnics and excursions were removed from the championship itineraries. The Senior Men’s championship remained in March while the Under 16 Boys and Under 19 Men competed in January. The short-lived Under 23 champion-ships were also held in March.

International standard diamonds

To conduct a shorter championship host States/Territories needed to have at least two diamonds of equal quality in close proximity to each other. Fortunately most States/Territories had dedicated venues with lighting for night matches or they were able to hire venues with lighting. Victoria, through the Waverley Softball Association, had an international standard diamond from 1971. A second top class facility was developed at Altona west of Melbourne. Queensland’s move from an ‘also ran’ to national champions was aided by opening of its international diamond at Downey Park in 1980. It had a ‘skinned’ or dirt infield and permanent lighting. NSW had a dedicated facility at Homebush, but ironically softball was relocated in 1998 from the principal Olympic site at Homebush to Blackstown for the 2000 Olympic Games. South Australia moved to West Beach Reserve in the mid-1960s and was able to construct an international standard diamond in 1984. WA followed in 1991 with the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka and drew on the experiences of the other States to ensure that it was state-of-the-art. The Hawker International Softball Centre provided the ACT with a venue suitable for elite matches. Tasmania and the Northern Territory continued to share facilities with other sports. In 2008 the ASF decided that championships would only be played on international standard diamonds and terminated the long-standing rotation of championships. State/Territory associations were invited to bid to host specific events provided they could meet the stringent criteria for facilities. NSW argued that the Olympic venue should be the permanent site for all senior and international events and has captured the International Friendship Series and the International Challenge Series.

Rule changes

The tight schedule of matches was facilitated by rule changes. The tie-breaker became standard practice in 1987. With scores level after seven innings the batting team began its eighth and subsequent innings with a runner on second base to increase the likelihood of a run being scored. The 1981 tied 21 innings grand final between Victoria and NSW will not be repeated. The introduction of the mercy rule saw the calling of time and game if one team lead the other by 10 or more runs at the completion of five innings. Losing teams were saved from further embarrassment while the winning team was credited with a win and set percentage. The ASF also changed the eligibility rules for State/Territory teams. From 1990 onwards States/Territories finishing in the bottom rankings were permitted to ‘pick-up’ a player from another State/Territory who had been unsuccessful in gaining a place in her/his own team. More recently States have been allowed to include ‘imports’ or players from overseas.

More opportunities for elite players

What was needed were more opportunities for players to play. The fledgling National Club Championships grew but was disbanded after the 1996 tournament because of ‘the physical and financial demands of the volume of competition’.1The National Fast Pitch League became the premier event outside the national championships. It had its origins in 1989 as the Eastern Fast Pitch League created under the auspices of the ACT Softball Association. This league targeted elite women’s and men’s club teams from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. In the first season it was played on round robin basis over four weekends. Each team was responsible for its own travel and accommodation with costs estimated to be about $20,000 with any shortfall made up by the players themselves. Teams from Brisbane quickly joined. Over the next couple of seasons the League was renamed the National Fast Pitch League and came under the banner of the ASF which in turn received specific funding for it from the Australian Sports Commission. By 1991-92 the League had grown to 24 teams – 14 women’s and 10 men’s - including two from South Australia. However, the South Australian teams found the costs prohibitive and did not continue in the League. As well, teams from others States relinquished their strict club allegiances and were often composite teams from district associations. In the 1993-94 season the top six women’s teams played 32 matches to qualify for the play-offs. The League was therefore highly successful in providing frequent, intense competition for participating teams. The negative aspect was that the teams most in need of more exposure to such competition – WA, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – were precluded because of costs.


While the women’s competition remained strong, the men’s league began to falter in the 1994-95 season when only seven teams competed. Only three men’s teams played in the last season in 1997-98. The women’s league also declined to eight teams from 1997-98, the season in which the WA team, Perth Thunder, played a limited number matches and managed to finish sixth. The following season teams in the league competed for the Australia Cup with Perth Thunder playing a full season. The 1999-2000 season was played over consecutive weekends in February at the new Olympic stadium a Blacktown and was presented as a familiarisation event for Australian players. To maintain the league various formats were tried after the Olympic Games. In the 2001-02 season there were six State teams plus the Under 19 teams from Australia and New Zealand. The following season there were two Australian Under 19 teams – Green and Gold. This gave players a chance to stake their claim for a place in the teams for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Japan and New Zealand participated in the 2004-05 event which was daubed Softball Australia Grand Prix Series. The six State/Association teams became representatives of the State/Territory institutes/academies of sport. In the 2006-07 season the league played four rounds over four extended weekends with Round 3 being the traditional Gilleys Shield competition. The Edebone-Weber Shield is run in conjunction with the Gilleys Shield when the New Zealand White Sox participate. Peta Edebone was an outstanding Australian player and captain while Gina Weber represented New Zealand from 1982 to 2004, the latter year as a member of the coaching staff. The Audrey McLaughlin Cup is awarded to the minor premiers, that is, the top ranking team at the end of the round robin. It is named in honour of former ASF Vice President, National Selector, Coach and original member of softball in Queensland. The focus of the 2007-08 season was selection of the team for the Beijing Olympics, an event at which softball had to excel as a sport to argue its case to remain in the Olympic programme.

Improving skills

Complimenting changes to the scheduling and conduct of the sport, were changes to improve the skills of the players and officials. The ASF received its first grant as part of the National Talent Identification and Elite Training Programme in 1988 and concentrated on training national squad members. The next step in 1992 was set up the Softball Academy through State/Territory based squads under ASF appointed local elite coaches who supervised training programs developed by the Australian Head Coach, Margaret Reynolds , and National Coaching Director, Robyn Peters. WA’s first Academy coaches were Shirley Schneider and Bob McKibbin. The final step was the inclusion of softball in the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 1993 although State institutes/academies had been assisting softball in South Australia since 1985, NSW since 1990 and Queensland since 1992. For softball the AIS operated a regional rather than residential program with players remaining in their home States/Territories to work on fitness and skills. Margaret Reynolds was given responsibility for this program as well. WA did not have any AIS scholarship holders. In 1995 elite development became more focused with the establishment of Intensive Training Centres (ITC) funded by the Olympic Athlete Program and tied to State/Territory based institutes/academies of sport.

Coaches were not neglected. To improve the standards of softball the ASF set standards for national coaches. By January 1993 all coaches of Australian teams had to possess at least Level 1 accreditation and within 12 months this was to be raised to Level II. The ASF recommended that the State/Territory associations do likewise. For most applicants for national coaching positions this was not seen as a problem since they were dedicated people who did everything they could to improve their knowledge and skills. (See Chapter 14)


Attention was also directed at the umpires. Under the leadership of National Director of Umpiring, Margo Koskelainen, the diverse State/Territory accreditations were overhauled to create a single eight-level system with Levels 7 and 8 being international standard. To get more international experience Koskelainen took a group of elite umpires on a tour to Canada and the USA in 1990. The umpires paid for the tour themselves. Steve Suckling from WA was a member of the group. The tour was followed by a series of summits and development clinics. (See Chapter 13). With more matches in a shorter timeframe there was increased intensity creating a need for all players - both on the diamond and on the bench - to be able to perform at consistently high standards. Injuries and poor performances placed more pressure on the other players and made selection of the starting line up for each match more crucial and increased the coaches’ reliance of the statistics provided by the Scorer. In turn, the title Scorer gave way to Statistician to more accurately reveal the nature of the position. The collection and analysis of player data became more detailed and computers became critical tools for coaches and selectors. While an Olympic gold medal has proved to be elusive for the Senior women’s team, the changes introduced since 1984 came to fruition in 2005 when Australia was the only one of over 100 softball countries to have all four national teams in the top three with the Open Women second, the Open Men third, the Under 19 Women third and the Under 19 Men first. In 2009 the Open Men claimed their first World Championship.


When the WASA moved from the Management Committee to Board of Management, the conduct of its club competition was allocated to the Summer (women’s) and Winter (men’s) competitions. However, because players from across WA were eligible to nominate for State teams these remained the responsibility of the WASA. WA softball gained major impetus in 1991 with the opening of the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka. (See Chapter 17) With international standard diamonds and lighting it was the ideal venue for elite softball and the WASA launched the State Softball League (SSL) for the 1991-92 season. (See Chapter 6) The SSL was purposefully designed to provide intense competition for elite women and men and to some extent compensated for WA’s inability to participate in the National Fastpitch League. Following the bronze medal performance of the Australian women’s team at the Atlanta Olympics the WASA decided to call the sport fastpitch.2 This concurred with the name used for the national league and the American name for this version of the sport which was anything but slow and gentle. Shorter championships combined with air travel further reduced the time softballers were away from home. For WA teams the practice was to travel three days prior to the championship allowing two days to acclimatize and practice on the championship diamonds. They flew home the day after their championship finished.


With the inclusion of a State Under 19 team in 1979, there was a lockstep pathway for players to develop from junior to senior ranks. However, not all juniors progressed to senior ranks. A host of reasons can be offered from loss of interest in softball; focus on academic studies; limited further development as a player, that is, some players reached their maximum potential as juniors; injuries; and, for some a preference to play softball only at club level free from the pressure of national championships. It has also been suggested that the advent of late night shopping on Thursday nights, a traditional training night, and all day trading on Saturdays lead some to focus on earning money in preference to playing sport. Nor did all senior players come from the junior teams. Some were late maturers, some did not consider the possibility until they reached higher grades of club competition and some only began playing softball in their late teens. The WAWSA continued to foster its talented juniors by conducting the annual Junior Camp.


One clear disadvantage for WA was the continued lack of visits by international teams. Most teams visiting Australia enter and leave through the east coast and play matches against teams in Queensland, NSW, ACT and Victoria. One exception was the People’s Republic of China which chose to play warmup matches in Perth en route to the 1985 South Pacific classic in Melbourne. The Chinese team won both of its matches against WA and went on to be runners-up to the USA in the Classic. The following year Zimbabwe en route to the World Championships in New Zealand played matches against the WA under age teams. Zimbabwe was no match for WA but hosting people from such an impoverished background was an eye-opener to the WA people who chose to be involved. WA supporters not only billeted the Zimbabweans but scouted around to find as much equipment as possible for the guests to take home with them. One proviso was that the equipment had to be second hand so that it would not be confiscated at the Zimbabwean border. Finally, in 2002 the South Pacific Classic for Women was played at Mirrabooka. Unfortunately the USA and Japan withdrew resulting in a four-team tournament between China, New Zealand, Australia and the AIS. International visit by men’s softball teams have also been limited. A Test Series was played between Australian and New Zealand Men in 1991 in conjunction with the opening of the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka. Indonesia participated in a tournament conducted within the State Softball League format in 1997. In 2000 an International Fastpitch Challenge was played at Mirrabooka between two WA teams, Australia and Chinese Taipei.


[i]McLeod, Ian. (1995/1996). Administrative Report. Softball Australia 1995-1995 Yearbook. p. 8.

[i]Carbon, Sally. (Sunday 23 March 1997). Brave WA in the ball game. Sunday Times, p. 78.