Chapter 16 - Development

Chapter 16



Securing more players and officials to play better quality games to attract more spectators and sponsors underpinned many of the initiatives of the ASF. The Long Range Plan put into action in 1984 set the broad agenda for all aspects of the ASF’s operations including junior development across Australia and promotion and publicity for softball. In 1985 the ASC launched its Aussie Sports program which included softball and in October 1986 the ASF followed up with its own Softball Skills Program. It relied on Affiliated Associations and clubs to introduce basic softball skills to children in schools in their local areas. As Mike McDermid, Chair of the ASF Junior Commission, noted in his 1988-89 report the ideas had the potential to address the declining numbers but the lack of personnel was a major handicap.  In 1991 Development was formalized by the ASF as a specific portfolio with its own staff member. Joanne Murray was appointed National Development Officer in 1991. In the ASF Year Book Murray explained that:

Development covers every aspect of the Federation’s operations … To develop we must take a customer-centred approach. We must ask ourselves continually, “What do our players, officials, sponsors and the media … want and need?” We must be willing to adapt our activities to meet thoseneeds and at the same time achieve our own goals.

Over two decades, this description has retained its relevance.


Murray’s duties during her first year included giving high priority to developing ‘lines of communication with State personnel as well as the ASC and its various units, together with ACHPER, the ASSC and many other groups’.1Energy was also devoted to schools and clubs with the production of a Lesson Plan Book for primary school teachers and coaches with ASC funding. This was followed by a Tee Ball video for primary schools which included tee ball, mod ball and basic rules. Funding for much of the publications came from the Aussie Sport Program of the ASC. Development was not just about getting more juniors to play softball but improving the experiences of elite players. Murray was instrumental in working with the Victorian Softball Association to have the AIS Lifeskills for Elite Athletes Program (LEAP) made available to 20 elite players. A joint Administration/Coaching/Development Workshop in Canberra gave Murray the opportunity to meet face-to-face with State personnel. Once she settled in to the position, Murray was also given responsibility for media, promotion and sponsorship.2 The ASF administration benefited as the National Executive Director, Ian McLeod, and National Administration Officer, Narelle Stafford, were able to focus on their specific responsibilities.


Over the next decade under the successive stewardships of Murray, Neil Dalrymple (1994 to 1998) and Marissa Fillipou (1998 to 2000) the Development portfolio continued to expand upon the activities set up by Murray. The NDOs embraced the initiatives of the ASC including Active Australia’and garnered respect with Dalrymple becoming a member of the National Sports Development Reference Group which advised the ASC’s Participation Division.  From 1993 onwards softball had the advantage of being an Olympic sport and was able to use its elite athletes as motivators for grassroots players. All forms of media were employed including the new electronic media: the internet. Initially NSOs shared the ASC’s website but by 1998 Softball Australia felt sufficiently competent to establish its own website. Prior to the Sydney Olympics Softball Australia screened two 13-week television series highlighting women’s and men’s national championships. However, at the back of the administrators’ minds there were always questions about what would happen after the Sydney Olympics and the ongoing tenure of softball in the Olympic program. The first question was answered in 1998 when the ASC-AOC began to wind back funding on the basis that preparation of athletes for the Sydney Olympics had peaked. The second question was answered in 2005 when London was awarded the 2012 Games and did not nominate softball for its program. Despite an intense international campaign to Back Softball, the IOC stood by the London Organising Committee. Thus planning for post-Athens 2004 was done with the knowledge that softball would make its last appearance at Beijing in 2008 and that the World Championships would resume their mantles as the ultimate international competitions for both women and men. Without its Olympic status softball had to face the future with decreased government funding for its elite programs and grassroots development.


The Sydney Olympics drove home the message that softball had to be pro-active and employ its own full-time media personnel especially since Softball Australia won the right to host the 2001 Sixth Junior Men’s World Championship at the Blacktown Olympic venue. Softball Australia reviewed the position of the NDO resulting in its abolition. In its place two positions were created: National Project Officer (held by Megan Kerr) and National Media and Communications Manager (held by Helen Watson). Kerr’s duties included club development, Active Australia, the ASC’s Targeted Participation Growth and a new program, Play Ball, for which softball renewed its association with baseball. In a three-way partnership of the ASF, the Australian Baseball Federation and the ASC was formed as part of the ASC’s Targeted Participation Growth Program under the Active Australia banner. Funding was provided by the ASC and Major League Baseball International. The State Associations applied to the ASF for funding to cover the cost of modified equipment used to introduce youngsters to skills and activities common to softball and baseball. Watson addressed both internal media by taking on board SA’s own publication Line Drive and The Softballer web newsletter as well as negotiating with a wide array of external media, the success of which was seen in a 75 percent up take of the 70 media releases.


Despite these efforts Softball Australia, like all NSOs, grappled with declining membership numbers. Former Australian player, Joanne Brown, joined the national staff as Membership Development Officer in 2003. Her specific focus was the Junior Games Pathway (JGP). Based on a survey conducted by the Queensland Sports Academy to ascertain why membership numbers were declining, four new modified games were developed to attract juniors. Brown also worked on policies relating to Heat, Junior Softball, Member Protection Regulation and Pregnancy. Preparation of a Facilities Management Guide filled out her schedule. Brown’s role complemented Watson’s new position as Public Relations Manager and Tinika Van Dort’s position as Project Officer – Development. The latter managed the Play Ball initiative, the Indigenous Sport Program (ISP) and ProjectCONNECT taking softball to non-able bodied participants.  While the range of programs continued, personnel changed. Public Relations came back to the NED (Susan Crow). Sarah Hutchinson replaced Van Dort. The website gained its own identity with Heather Farrell overseeing web development to the point where State associations and clubs could develop their own websites and access common modules such as competition and membership database.


Towards the end of 2004, there was a welcome addition to Softball Australia - the Athletes’ Commission. Its ‘purpose was to [represent] the views of athletes from grassroots to elite level to the Softball Australia Board’. Australian player, Brooke Wilkins, was its Board member.  In the face of tightening finances, Softball Australia merged the coaching and development portfolios which became the responsibility of the Game Development Manager, Chet Gray, in 2005. Such a heavy workload was not sustainable. In 2006 DiAnne Lilburn was appointed National Communications Manager and former Australian player, Kylie Bloodworth, became Indigenous Softball Co-ordinator.  The following year Bloodworth was re-assigned to Talent Identification. Shannon Ryan relieved Gray of Membership Growth and Club Development. This was subsequently shared with Ryan as Manager of Community and Grassroots and Jenelle Morton as Co-ordinator. SA further embraced IT in 2008 when Sarah Ritchie was employed to oversee eMarketing.  Development has been perhaps the most complex portfolio because of the range of activities embraced to ensure Softball Australia was always ‘customer-centred’. To some extent, Development was a reactive function. Most Development reported here has been undertaken against a background of declining participation in an era of immense social changes especially in retail shopping and electronic entertainment which proved more attractive to young Australians. Like the other Technical services (coaching, scoring and umpiring), Development has relied on the State/Territory associations to implement its initiatives. However, the State/Territory associations did not appoint their State Development Officers (SDO) when the ASF appointed the NDO usually because of financial constraints. When the NDOs held national meetings, the State/Territory associations were represented by the most appropriate person be it the SCD, administrator or another office bearer.  As well, the State/Territory associations had obligations to local funding agencies such as their State government through sport and recreation and more recently health promotion. Undoubtedly there were a great number of very good ideas but to what extent each succeeded is difficult to determine without ongoing analysis and evaluation. It has been suggested that insufficient time was allowed for each program to become established before the next one was introduced. The State/Territory associations had to take each new program on board to secure funding.


Many of the Development initiatives in WA focused on recruiting more junior players and providing talented juniors with opportunities to progress to elite softball. Junior softball was seen as the means of establishing a pool of future senior players. During the 1950s and ‘60s numerous visits to schools were undertaken by people such as Val Johnson and Pat Tatham with the aim of introducing softball to young girls and recruiting players to their clubs. Life Member Greta Craig clearly remembered Johnson’s visit to Princess May School during the mid-1950s as the reason for playing softball.  By the 1959-60 season the Junior competition was steady with 10 teams competing on Saturday mornings from October till December. Juniors were defined as players under 16 years of age at the commencement of the season. Those celebrating their sixteenth birthday during the season could continue to play out the season. A separate High Schools competition was won by Governor Stirling Senior High School which received the President’s Trophy donated by Val Johnson.  The next steps taken in the 1964-65 season focused on either side of the existing junior competition. A sub-junior competition for girls up to 12 years of age began and a State junior team of Under 16 year olds was introduced.  Public awareness of softball was evident at the beginning of the 1966-67 season when Val Prunster from Melville Saints stated that she had details of 18 schools seeking volunteers to coach interested girls. Prunster sought donations of unwanted equipment to support these new participants. With juniors such an important part of the Association the Junior Committee warranted its own section in the 1968-69 Annual Report. Prunster, Penny McKeig and Don Leyland formed the nucleus of the committee and were ably assisted by Don Smith, Nox Bailey and Alan Wedlake. The Junior Camp became an annual event on the WAWSA calendar.

To retain enthusiastic juniors, they were permitted to play one Junior and one Senior match on the same day provided they were registered with a Junior team in the 1970-71 season. In a move to further promote Junior softball the Junior A grade final was held at West Perth Football Club/ Leederville Oval before the Senior A Reserve and A grade grand finals. Administration of Junior softball was divorced from the State Junior squad which was solely the responsibility of the coach and manageress. Finding a happy balance between recruiting and training new players and providing intense training for elite juniors proved to be an ongoing challenge for the Junior Committee. Over the next couple of decades, the relationship between the Junior Camp, selection trials for the Under 16 team and specialist clinics was always problematic especially when country players were involved and their parents could only afford to pay for one trip to Perth.  

Brian Properjohn initiated a winter Junior competition in 1971 or what he referred to as ‘scratch match between six teams’ which was played at Dodd Street Reserve,Wembley. After some hesitation over the insurance implications the Executive gave its support believing that most players were covered by their schools’ insurance policies or Hospital Benefit Fund. John Claxton and Don Smith were appointed to assist Properjohn.  Growth of junior softball continued to be a priority. In 1972-73 the Association offered its services to the teachers’ colleges, the logic being ‘that if we can teach the teachers the game, then the correct methods will be used in schools’. Don Leyland made a special presentation to the Independent Girls’ Schools. John Claxton met with Jim Davies, the Superintendent of Physical Education who expressed interest in helping to foster softball in schools by circulating details of clubs and the junior and sub-junior competitions. The breadth of opportunities increased in the mid-70s and early ‘80s with local governments and the State government setting up recreation departments. Sports organizations were invited to assist conduct school holiday activities. In September 1975 the WASA assisted the City of Stirling with a clinic during the first week of the holidays at Dianella Primary School. DYSR introduced multi-sport clinics in 1985 and softball was invited to participate. Ben Thorley was among the first coaches to assist and he attended the clinic in Newman in 1985. During the 1984-85 season the SCD worked with DYSR to compile an information package for distribution to schools and sub-junior coaches. Although it involved extra work it was considered worthwhile because ‘it puts our sport to the foreground with contacts displayed for further information through WASA’. DYSR also became the local agent for the ASC’s Aussie Sports program. Come ‘n Try Dayswere introduced during school holidays in 1988 to introduce youngsters to softball with hope that they would join clubs. From 1989 the focus of DSR sponsored program varied in focus. Some provided fun days for children to entice them to play sport while other events focused on teachers who were responsible for sport and physical education. Requests from schools were met by whoever was available be it the JDO, the SCD, State team members or Life Members.


The ASF became proactive in Development when it introduced the Softball Skills Programme in 1986. Metropolitan clubs with A grade women’s teams and country associations were paired with primary schools in their districts to conduct weekly clinics for students in Years 4 to 6. Initial statistics indicated that 212 primary schools had some contact with the programme and it was believed that it would grow. Administratively it came under the portfolio of the Administration Officer, Mary Andreotta. An additional funding source became available in WA in 1989 when the State government set up the Statutory body, Healthway, which was funded from the tax on tobacco products with the aim of eliminating advertising of tobacco products in sport and the Arts. Stringent criteria were used to vet applications for grants and SSOs were partnered with appropriate health agencies to dispense positive health messages through sport. Softball was partnered with the QUIT Smoking campaign. In 1993 the WASA received funds from Healthway for Quit Schools Development Program in primary schools. The program comprised five weekly lessons and Country Junior Development. As well, the WASA was required to begin the arduous task of eliminating smoking from the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka, a task which generated considerable angst from members of the softball community who were hardcore smokers. During Term 1 1994 circulars were forwarded to 286 primary and high schools advising them that specialist softball coaches were available as a result of a successful application for funding from Healthway. Over 150 schools took up the offer requiring a team of assistants: Tom Maher, Emma Griffiths, Judy Shepperd, Coral Wyatt, James Jarvis, Penny Stonier, Alan Collings, Kendal Leggett, Tracey Stagg, Sheryl Fricker, Linda Rayner, Lisa Evans and John Cebelo. The program continued into Term 2. Healthway funding meant that before each clinic the presenter gave a short spiel about the evils of smoking or a similar health message. McKibbin realized that Development was hampered by the limited human and financial resources and he began to sow the seeds for the employment of a Development Officer (DO). This did not happen until 1998. The advertisement for DO was very broad stating that:

the successful applicant would be responsible for the introduction of plans to develop the sport of softball in WA in a progressive and ongoing basis, possess experience in instructional/coaching at a senior level and have sounds written and oral communication skills, and ideally be experienced with the game of softball.


Initially the position was part-time with the possibility of increased hours as the role expanded. Emma Griffiths was the WASA’s first DO. She worked alongside Maher. Her appointment co-incided with a constitutional review which placed the DO along with the SCD, SDU and SSD under the Board Member responsible for the Technical Development portfolio. Griffiths’ awareness of the breadth of Development was expanded when she attended the 1999 SDO Meeting in Melbourne. NDO, Marissa Fillipou, took the SDOs through an extensive agenda which included the “Play Ball” School softball package, Academy Structure, Elite Player involvement in promotion, new competitions like mixed and slow pitch softball, information dispersal to clubs/associations, developing clearer player pathways, policy and procedures manuals, Active Australia and the relationship membership and service. At the State level the DO was responsible for all camps which had previously been covered by the State coaches.


State player and trained physical education teacher, Chantelle James, replaced Griffiths in 2000. Maher was re-elected JDO at AGM but it was becoming apparent that Development was more suited to a professional staff member than a volunteer and the JDO position was withdrawn. James’ appointment co-incided with the Operational Review. The opportunity was taken to review the development program resulting in a strategic change from an emphasis on schools to membership retention and developing existing softballers. The schools program continued in response to requests from schools with clinics conducted in 15 schools for 940 students who participated in 52 skill sessions. However, the effectiveness of the program was challenged and it was found that few children progressed from schools to clubs.  In a joint initiative with Sport and Recreation WA (formerly DSR), Softball WA launched its own Indigenous Softball Program (ISP). In January 2000 a group of 22 metropolitan and country Aboriginal girls attended a three-day camp for specialist training culminating in a match played as a curtain-raiser to the grand final of the Senior women’s national championship at Mirrabooka. In March 24 girls from the Western Desert and Central Desert participated in a week-long camp capped off by the Desert Challenge Series which was won by the Western Desert team. The most valuable player of the series was awarded the Linda Kelly Medal which honoured WA’s longest serving Aboriginal State team player.


James was also kept extremely busy with promotional events including the National Australia Fun Day, one of the ASF’s Active Australia Development program. It was held in September 2000 with the Hills and Mandurah associations being the most committed. James contributed with the Super Hero Sports Fun Day at Whiteman Park as part of WA Children’s Week. She organized a display with pamphlets and posters and children could actively participate on a diamond with sling pitching machine and a tee using whiffle balls. Every child who batted received a showbag with Healthway gear, posters and promotional postcards. As happened at national level, the DO’s role expanded to cover new initiatives occurring in the broader sports community. James found herself representing softball at the Smarter than Smoking Schoolgirls’ Breakfast conducted by Womensport West and receiving training to be the WASA’s Harassment Contact Officer. James’ liaison with Healthway was aided by WASA Board Member Jodie Payne. She was a former State player and business graduate who served as Softball WA’s sponsorship officer. James remained optimistic and always seemed to have new ideas ready to float by Board members even though the WASA was stressed by the Operational Review.  James resumed her teaching career in February 2002. Andy Ross, a Sports Science graduate and soccer coach replaced her. Ross built on the solid foundations James had established for programs like Smarter than Smoking PitchWest, Camp Chuck It To Me, Smoke Free WA ISP and Promotional Days. He was also able to implement an expanded Schools Program James had designed using 10 part-time Field Officers/Coaches in 18 schools. Approximately 3,000 children were exposed to softball although Ross was realistic about the number likely to progress to club softball. Since the program was self-funded, it was seen as a valuable visibility exercise. Camp Chuck It To Me was far less successful than hoped for with only 16 boys participating.


The following year Ross was assisted by Neil Stevenson who focused on junior development particularly in schools. PitchWest and Camp Chuck It To Me continued but with less impact and support. Chantelle James continued to work as a volunteer in the former. More emphasis was placed on regional development with a program in the North West, camps in Manduarh, modball clinics in the north and south and ISP in the Western Desert and Albany. Development of potential State and national players gained more attention with a specific program for men lead by Gary Butler, Peter Koha and Dave McKenzie. Elite junior women were given the opportunity to attend a 6-week program under the tutelage of WAIS Coach, Kere Johanson. State Shadow satellite squads were introduced, one in the metropolitan area and one in regional WA.  Most of the programs continued into 2003-04 with varying degrees of success. Stevenson was assisted in both the schools program and player clinics by Karen Clark, an international player with the State Senior women’s team. Camp Chuck It To Me was reorganized with one metropolitan camp and one regional camp in the West Pilbara. The latter owed much to the enthusiasm and organizational skills of Janice Landy (nee Rector and sister of Life Member Graeme Rector). Landy was also instrumental in developing a State Shadow squad in the West Pilbara. Getting the same response in the metropolitan area proved more difficult. PitchWest was also re-organised with Level 1 for newcomers and Level 2 for advanced pitchers. Julie Berry co-ordinated the program while James continued her commitment and was joined by former Australian player and WASA Board member, Neal Delpero. The ISP Camp was held in Esperance and serviced players from the Eastern Goldfields and Great Southern. The skill development clinic attracted 61 children on whom 27 traveled from the Eastern Goldfields. Sessions for coaches, scorers and umpires did not draw the support expected. It was later realized that more attention should have been paid to talent identification since several players showed sufficient potential to warrant consideration for State teams.


The Development Program was interrupted in 2005. Ross resigned in January and was not replaced until May by Chris Hoffman. Mark Harris was recruited as the Junior Development Officer/Schools Program while Julie Berry co-ordinated the Play Ball Program which in WA was softball only. Harris visited numerous schools under the Smarter Than Smoking Schools Program while Berry visited others with the Play Ball Program. Camp Chuck It To Me continued its successful venture into the Pilbara. PitchWest had 55 participants in Level 1 for six weeks with a further four weeks for advanced pitchers. James worked with Aaron Cockman. The ISP’s main initiative was a 3-day clinic and carnival as part of the Desert Dust Up at the Warakuran Community School in North East WA near the NT border. A smaller project involved 15 girls at Balga Senior High School.  Further disruptions occurred in 2005-06 when Hoffman resigned as Senior Development Officer. Harris continued as Junior Development Officer with his major focus being schools and thus ensured that Softball WA fulfilled its obligations to Healthway funded programs. Without a Senior DO Camp Chuck It To Me and PitchWest were cancelled. Harris’ sudden departure late in 2007 left the Development portfolio in a somewhat chaotic state. Board member Trevor Schorer undertook the organization of school holiday clinics while WAIS scholarship holder, Verity Long-Droppert was employed part-time as schools co-ordinator and recruited her fellow WAIS team members to deliver clinics late in 2007. Long-Droppert continued her endeavours into 2008-09. Milosa Jackson became the Junior Development co-ordinator to work alongside Long-Droppert and members of the Western Flames in schools and clubs.


Jackson’s job description maintained a focus on schools but also included overseeing Level 1 and 2 coaching accreditation as well as scoring and umpiring accreditation.  Softball Development in WA has benefited from the tireless work of numerous volunteers and from 1998 the expertise of professional DOs. However, the tenure of the latter tended to be relatively short resulting in discontinuity. Chantelle James did continue with PitchWEST as a volunteer. ASF initiatives have been juggled against local DSR and Healthway funded programs. The great frustration is that despite these efforts, numbers have declined. Unlike, the ASF the WASA did not specifically include media coverage in the duty statements of its professional DOs. Nor has WA been able draw on the success of its elite teams to promote softball through the media since the 1950s. Several softball personalities have forged strong links with the media. Bill Wells, State coach and a journalist, was able to manipulate the newspapers to highlight the efforts of the 1952 team. Pat Tatham, a self-taught reporter, maintained a steady coverage of A grade and State team performances through to the 1980s, in the process earning herself recognition from the media. The lack of success of the State women’s teams fueled the relegation of softball to minor sport status in the eyes of the media which increasingly devoted its sports pages to the highly visible Australian football, cricket and racing. This was a barrier that the very successful men’s teams could not overcome.


[i]ACHPER is the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. ASSC may be the ASSA which was the Australian Society for Sports Administrators.

[i]Development proved to be one of the most challenging chapters for the author. Several possibilities were considered for its organization. One was identifying each activity included under Development in the ASF Year Books and discussing the activity in its entirety, for example, Active Australia, ProjectCONNECT. However, this isolated the activities and preference was given to considering what happened on an annual basis. The result is perhaps less cohesive but more representative of what staff, Board members and volunteers dealt with on a daily basis - everything happening at once. Not all Development activities have been included, rather just a sample that depict the efforts made to promote softball.