Chapter 6 - State Softball League

Chapter 6 

Once the construction of the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka was confirmed, the Association began detailed planning for an elite competition, a State League. The floodlit diamonds and the function centre with a bar were ideal for an evening competition played out before a crowd of paying spectators. The State League was the culmination of numerous previous attempts to raise the profile of softball and provide a valuable training ground for players progressing to the State teams.

Table 6.1.
Proposed A grade softball clubs based on WAFL boundaries in 1975.

A Grade softball club WAFL
Nedlands Rookies Claremont
Hell’s Angels East Fremantle
Bedford Youth Club East Perth
Demons Perth
Fremantle Rebels South Fremantle
Apache Subiaco
Gee Bees Swan Districts
Nollamara West Perth


District softball

The idea of an alternative format arose in April 1975 when Nedlands Rookies requested a General Meeting to discuss the possibility of restructuring A grade by allocating defined metropolitan areas to each of the eight A grade clubs. Players would be residentially bound to a particular club. Speaking on behalf of Nedlands Rookies Don Smith proposed that the WAWSA adopt the current boundaries used by the WA Football League (WAFL) as shown in Table 6.1.  The proposal went as far as recommending the elimination of all other clubs. At that stage there were 22 clubs fielding 80 teams across 6 senior and 4 junior grades with softball played on both Langley Park and Yokine Reserve. The clubs with the eight A grade teams fielded 51 teams accounting for 64 percent of the competition.  John Claxton followed up on Nedlands Rookies’ proposal noting that the majority of those playing softball and involved in its administration were connected with the A grade clubs. Claxton then shared his knowledge of softball in his home State of South Australia. The SA association had 10 district Clubs with the intention of increasing to 12 which would be divided into two pools of six teams for A grade. The top six would be A1 and the bottom six A2 with relegation and promotion of the bottom A1 and top A2 teams. A player could play with the club of her choice but to play in A grade she had to play with the club to which she was residentially bound.  In WA Nedlands Rookies’ proposal was considered to have merit despite some possible disputes over boundaries especially between BYC and Gee Bees regarding East Perth. A sub-committee consisting of Claxton, Smith, Lorraine Malcolm, Nox Bailey, Peggy Beckett, Brian Fielding and Joy Marsland was directed to prepare a recommendation for District Softball paying particular attention to the boundaries. In September, two new sub-committee members, Pat Grice and Geoff Cameron, recommended District Softball be abandoned for the present but was worthy of future consideration.


Night softball

As early as the 1950s softball was often played as a curtain raiser to the night baseball games held at the WA Cricket Ground. In 1977 a mini series was played on the infield of Cannington Central, the greyhound-racing course. In his President’s Report, Claxton declared this venture to be a success with players, supporters and sponsors prepared to support the next season. Unfortunately a year later Claxton reported that:

the experiment of night games is over. We have proved that playing at night is accepted by the players however the lack of support was most disappointing. Crowds did not increase as we hoped they would and players’ enthusiasm for night games was not matched at all by most members of the Association.

A major problem with the experiment was the venue at which the greyhound track separated supporters from the diamonds. A second problem was the separation of the mini series from the Saturday competition.  Clubs still wanted more softball and there was increasing pressure to improve standards in WA softball. A new proposal for night softball was presented to the Management Committee in June 1981. It was designed for the A grade clubs but was not compulsory. If an A grade team chose not to participate its players could elect to play with another team for the night series. The clubs that elected to play would thus have two matches per week – Saturday and one weeknight - but with the loss of one training session. The series was designed to help develop young players and regulations stipulated that ‘teams must have 3 players under the age of 19 years on the field at all times’. As a distinct competition the night series began about a month after the Saturday one. These guidelines were laid down prior to a suitable ground being arranged leaving open the option of an alternative twilight competition at Yokine Reserve. Approaches were made to Azzuri Soccer Club and the Velodrome but neither was available. Morley Windmills offered their training ground including re-arranging the lighting. The suitability was tested by the Under 16 and Under 19 State teams training and playing a scratch match at the ground. The series was scheduled to commence in January after the grounds were top-dressed. It was to consist of one round and finals. Matches were limited to 1 hour 15 minutes with the first match commencing at 6:15pm, the second at 7:45pm and the third one at 9:15pm. Maximum use could be made of Morley Windmills facilities with canteen takings going to the Association and bar takings to Morley Windmills. Despite so much time and effort, the series did not proceed.


By September 1982 the outlook was very positive. Reg Page negotiated with the baseball association for use of Parry Field on Monday evenings from November to February. He suggested that a twilight junior competition be played as a curtain raiser to two senior matches each evening. Page also recommended that the regulation to include three Under 19 players be withdrawn so that the best senior players could participate with the aim of providing top class matches for the spectators. His motivation was clear – income generation from paying spectators and attractive softball to lure potential sponsors. The participating teams and umpires were given free entry to the grounds. Unfortunately, not all clubs embraced Page’s high hopes and a number of poor games and dubious tactics lead him to reiterate the need to play quality softball to attract fee paying spectators even though entrance fees were minimal: $2 for adults and $1 for Under 18s and pensioners. The cost to the Association was $4,250 for the 10-night series.


For the second season the WASA reduced its costs by hiring Parry Field directly from Belmont Shire. One subsequent problem was the demand on umpires who were also expected to umpire double headers on Saturdays. A modification of rounds was needed to ensure that there were enough umpires available. Costs were still a contentious issue. Players who forgot their special passes had to pay admission fees while parents did not like paying for the whole evening as they only attended for their daughters’ match. Page was still frustrated by the sub-standard play and challenged coaches and players to lift their game. To overcome this problem, the third season of night softball was incorporated into the regular competition with two rounds played on Saturdays and night softball making up the third round. The Umpires’ Association agreed to cover all plate duties and the duty team covered the bases. Extra helpers were needed at Parry Field by 5pm to lift the portable baseball-pitching mound. It had to be re-installed after the last match. At the completion of the season, Reg Page noted in the Annual Report that it was ‘not a financial success, but game and competition was good, an area we need more support in’.


Going into the 1985-86 season, general consensus supported the continuation of night softball with the night games to be played as a round of the regular competition. For spectators the best viewing positions were the seats directly in front of the clubrooms for which required them to become members of the Baseball Association. The fourth season was not, however, fait accompli with the President and Vice President directed to investigate further. Following their reports a vote determined that night softball would no longer be played at Parry Field. Inquiries made about the availability of Dorien Gardens brought a negative response. There were no further attempts to play night softball.

The creation in 1987 of the Summer (women’s) competition and the Winter (men’s) competition gave the WASA an opportunity to observe first hand the merits, or otherwise, of two different models: centrally located at Yokine Reserve and home and away at club grounds.


Super League

The next move when the Winter Competition conducted a Super League beginning in mid-1989 and continuing for three seasons. This enabled members of the men’s State teams to play competitive softball immediately prior to their national championships. The Under 19 Men’s State team was the major beneficiary when it competed as a team in its own right in 1989. During the second and third seasons the Super League was played in the summer, a move that saw ‘WA catching up with our counterparts in the eastern states’ according to Ian Bastow in his report as Winter Co-ordinator. Members of the men’s State teams played for their clubs in the 1991 season.


State Softball League

In February 1991 with the Mirrabooka complex rapidly taking shape the Board of Management held a Special Meeting to determine long-term use of it. The formation of a State Softball League (SSL) was discussed at length with two clear suggestions: (a) a 12-team competition; and (b) a Women’s State League made up of the eight A grade teams plus seven teams from other Associations. Plans were made for a meeting of the women’s A grade and the men’s Super League teams in April. In July a sub-committee was formed with a representative of each A grade club and nominees of the Board – Reg Page, Bob McKibbin, Mark Hagdorn, Laurie Prior, Don Brooks and Shirley Schneider. By August tentative fixtures were suggested with two games on Wednesday (women), two games on Friday (men and women) and two games on Saturday (men and women).

More pragmatic issues arose with realization that additional personnel would be required at Mirrabooka such as a gate person to collect entry fees and cleaners. Authorization was given to Lorraine Page to determine what equipment would be needed in the canteen to cope with the anticipated crowds. In October it was decided to call for nominations for a committee to run the League. As well discussions were held with netball and basketball administrators to find out how they conducted their leagues. The first League committee was Shirley Schneider, John Claxton, Brad Delavale, Robbie Summers, Reg Page and Graeme Rector, the latter two as the Board’s representatives and Peter Evans who was accepted Chairman after clarification of his financial status. The principle objective for the SSL set by the WASA Board was to ‘create in Western Australia a premier statewide softball league providing a high level of competition for both men and women’. To achieve this Evans noted in his report to 1992-93 AGM the logistical tasks of the committee were:

a) defining regions for each of the new SSL clubs;

b) allocating existing WASA men’s and women’s clubs to new regions, and assisting the development of new teams in those regions;

c) in conjunction with the clubs, and the WASA Board, drafting regulations under which the two competitions would be played;

d) consideration of a Licence document and fee;

e) an appropriate process for the appointment of umpires;

f) arranging a weekly State Softball League publication, and publicity through newspapers and its own weekly radio programme; and

g) drafting fixtures to provide for games to be played at Clubs’ “home” grounds on a home and away basis and at Mirrabooka.


The committee presented two proposals to a meeting in April 1992:

a) To put areas, defined by shire boundaries, up for tender and ask for submissions with first and second preferences. Clubs which agreed to move to specified areas were to be given first option; and

b) No areas – extend competition to 11 women’s and 9 men’s sides. Play 1992-93 as home and away competition. In the second year the eight original areas would be put out to tender by the clubs. The Board recommended that the first proposal be put to Club Presidents. After several months of debate the SSL structure emerged as shown in Table 6.2. It was a frantic time for all involved as the new clubs established their own committees and attended to items such as colours and uniform, grounds (leased from local governments), acquiring home run fences and registering players. Each team was allowed a maximum of 16 players plus a coach and other officials such as scorer and manager. Players and officials were residentially bound to areas agreed to by the Club presidents. However, to cope with the problem of players already being members of a club outside their residential designation, a system of permits and clearances was set up. A Club, on behalf of a player or official, could seek a permit for the person to play with it. Permits were only valid for 12 months but could be renewed. After two years the player/official could seek a clearance. All paperwork had to be processed by the WASA office. It would appear from the Playing Rules and Regulations that the intention of the SSL was to have the Clubs well established so that by 1996 all players and officials would be residentially bound.[i] The inference was that over time the Club would develop an identity in its local community which in turn would become a source of players, officials, spectators and sponsors.

Table 6.2. Inaugural State Softball League clubs.
Formed by Existing

WASA Clubs
Region    SSL Club                    Men                         Women

Bayswater    - Eastern Monarchs,     Bayswater Morley,    Bayswater Morley

Bedford        - Bedford Invasion,       Bedford,                     Bedford DYC

Claremont    - Coastal Rookies,        West Stirling,             Nedlands Rookies

Dale             - Southdale Spectres,    Dale Districts,           Sth Perth Angels

Fremantle    - Southside Mariners,   Fremantle/Melville,   Fremantle Rebels/Melville Saints

Kalamunda. - Kalamunda Knights   Hills Assoc.                Kalamunda

Morley         - Morley Magic,            Morley Eagles,          Morley Eagles 
Rockingham - Peel Pirates,               Rockingham,             Rockingham

Stirling         - Stirling Centrals,       West Stirling,             Yokine Apache

Wanneroo     - Wanneroo Twins,        Perth Outlaws,          Dianella Demons


Enthusiasm was high when the SSL commenced on 9 October 1992. Each men’s and women’s team played 8 home games, 8 away games and 11 games at Mirrabooka, a total of 27 matches before the top five teams battled out the finals. There were, however, large differences in performance between the top and bottom teams. In round six Eastern Monarch men’s team defeated Southdale Spectres 27-0 on Friday night and then backed up to defeat Kalamunda Knights 11-0 on Saturday.[ii] In the best of three grand final series in the men’s division Stirling Centrals defeated Bedford Invasion 2-1 with Southdale Spectres claiming the women’s crown with a 2-1 victory over Coastal Rookies. As well as the team awards there were a raft of individual awards for both men and women for Most Valuable Player (over season), Most Valuable Player in Grand Finals, Home Runs, Slugging, Batting, runs Batted in, Stolen Bases, Golden Glove and Umpire of the Year. Where possible the awards were named in honour of the stalwarts of WA softball: Reg Page, Val Johnson, Nox Bailey, Dave Cosson and Shirley Schneider. Sponsors were also recognized: Healthway, Optel Audio Visual, Insurance Exchange and Slater Gartrell. Trophies were presented at the Presentation Dinner held at the WACA Ground.


One downside was the impact on State teams. Although all players were gaining far more elite playing experience there was less time available for State team training and bonding as reflected in the placings at national championships. The best performers were the Under 16 Boys who were runners up, the Under 19 Men were third, and the Senior Men, Senior Women and Under 19 Women finished fifth while the Under 16 Girls could only manage sixth placing. During the first two seasons media coverage was regular with match reports after most sessions. Unlike previous coverage where softball was reliant on one of its own – Pat Grice – the SSL was covered by one of The West Australian’s own reporters, Rowena Newcomen. However, media coverage of the new League focused on the women’s competition. Initially, there was a paragraph or two covering the men’s competition but that ceased early in the season. Most players’ reactions were probably like those of Donna Ebert who played with Bedford Invasion. When interviewed for The West Australian, Ebert said, ‘I must admit I was a bit skeptical, with all the traveling to home and away matches … but it’s been like an injection. It’s given clubs a new persona’.[iii] With the passage of time the size and frequency of reports decreased.


The SSL required its own Playing Rules and Regulations which necessitated an overhaul of the WASA’s Constitution to accommodate this new phase in WA softball. One issue was the representation and voting rights of the new clubs at the AGM. In the interim they did not have either. The Acting Chairman of the SSL became a WASA Board Member. Peter Evans initially held this position. By 1994 the SSL had the same status and rights as the Summer and Winter Competitions. Fees were substantial as each team paid $500 or $1,000 per club. While most referred to these monies as the licence fee it was actually a registration fee. The notion of licences persisted for almost a decade but was never formalized. In addition, the players and officials paid an individual registration fee of $10 and an insurance fee of $9. Players, also had to pay club membership fees. The clubs kept all income generated from the canteen and bar at home games. The WASA retained the income from the gate, bar and canteen at Mirrabooka. Of particular importance was sponsorship from Healthway of $20,000 which resulted in the competition being known as the QUIT State Softball League.


Teething problems continued but Evans felt confident enough to report that in its second season the SSL was fulfilling its aim. The possibility of becoming a state-wide league was boosted with the inclusion of Bunbury City Blues. According to Coach Bruce Freeman Bunbury had declined an invitation to join the SSL in its first season because its facilities were not ready.[iv] As Evans noted ‘not only did they add a new dimension to both competitions by introducing new players and coaches, but they showed what can be achieved by teams outside the metropolitan area, when given the opportunity to use their initiative regarding club and facility development and coach and player recruitment’. Bunbury City Blues was administered by Leschenault Diamond Sports, an incorporated not-for-profit organization, whose constituent bodies were Bunbury City Softball Association, Leschenault Junior Softball and Teeball Club, Leschenault Baseball Club and Steelers Softball Club. Geographically players were drawn from Bunbury, Busselton, Harvey and Collie. Bunbury boasted a State Senior women’s representative in Linda Kelly. Coaches Bruce Freeman and Kim Pyke eventually went on to become Coach and Assistant Coach of the Senior women’s State team. Bunbury grounds featured a skinned infield. Bunbury also negotiated overnight accommodation for the visiting teams at a very reasonable tariff (paid by the visitors).


There was a considerable change of personnel running the league in its second season. Claxton, Delavale and Page left the committee and were replaced by Nerryl Cross, Tom Corcoran and Joanne Malkovich who took over from Graeme Rector as SSL Secretary. As was the case with all WASA competitions, the SSL was administered by volunteers apart from the processing of registrations by the WASA office. Only 6 of the 11 SSL clubs attended the first SSL AGM in April 1994. Election of office bearers was postponed and the opportunity was taken by those present to have a thorough discussion of their experiences to date and suggest improvements for the forthcoming season. A subsequent meeting in May saw Peter Evans, Joanne Malkovic and Graeme Rector elected unopposed as Chairman, Secretary and Club Liaison officer respectively. The budget prepared for the WASA AGM showed that the SSL cost just over $37,000 to conduct compared with $30,000 for the Summer Competition and $15,000 for the Winter Competition. Bunbury City Blues were allocated double-header home and away matches to reduce their travel and avoid Wednesday matches in Perth. The intensity of the rivalry was clearly demonstrated in the 1994-95 season when SSL clubs began to recruit ‘non-nationals’, that is, international players. Each team was permitted to have two non-nationals per season. These players had to fulfill ASF residency requirements and were eligible for selection in State teams. Bunbury City Blues lead the way. Freeman contacted officials in Canada and was provided with a list of 28 players interested in coming to WA. Bunbury chose pitcher Marie Green and catcher Michelle Gross from a provincial league near Toronto. Kalamunda Knights chose another pitcher, Kimberley Turner, and Southdale Spectres recruited Tiffany Stanton. Coastal Rookies picked up a New Zealander, Alison Dingle. The non-nationals were not paid to play softball but had their accommodation costs covered.[v]


As detailed planning proceeded for the 1994-95 season, tension developed between the SSL and the umpires. The number of matches significantly increased the number of umpires required and the time commitment of umpires increased when they had to travel to district grounds for home and away matches. While emphasis was upon each team playing 30 home and away matches, for the umpiring staff the equation was 30 home and away matches for women and men (that is, 60 home and away matches) by 11 clubs for a total of 660 matches between October and March plus finals and tournaments plus Saturday matches at a number of suburban associations (including Yokine Reserve) plus national championships. As with all elite softball, the SSL aimed to have three umpires per match (plate and two bases) which effectively took the equation to over 2,000 placements per season. With a pool of between 20 to 30 qualified umpires, this meant each umpire would need to cover between 65 and 100 matches. Staffing matches at Mirrabooka was less of a problem and it was accepted that home and away matches had only one qualified umpire. The umpires requested an increase in their payment from $12 per match to $17 for men’s matches and $14 for women’s. The SSL considered this excessive and offered only $12. In his end-of-season report Chairman Tom Corcoran acknowledged the difficulties experienced with umpiring and recommended that more attention be given by the WA Softball Umpires Association (WASUA) to training programs. He also supported realistic payments and suggested a scale recognizing qualifications. He estimated that the average figure should be in the vicinity of $20 per umpire per game. From a budget of $34,000 to run the League the umpires cost $12,500.


The season began controversially with player permits and financial status being disputed. One summary issued on 27 October 1994 listed 22 clearances, 15 permits and 3 refusals. After three rounds, nine matches had been declared forfeits and two games declared no games, all because teams had played unregistered players. This was despite the League generously allowing Clubs 72 hours after a match to ensure that a player was registered. As Registrar Ev Harvey bore the brunt of the criticism but remained objective throughout and Corcoran described her as a ‘tower of strength’. It was becoming increasingly clear that 30 qualifying matches plus finals were taxing even the most dedicated softballers. As well the constant use of Mirrabooka was leading to excessive wear and tear on its surface well beyond its original design. Corcoran recommended attention be directed towards long-term impacts and was cautious about what would happen if other country centres joined the SSL. The Presentation Dinner was abandoned and trophies were presented immediately after the grand finals. Like the WASA Board Corcoran was very concerned about softballers ignoring the no smoking requirements of the major sponsors and challenged all softballers not to jeopardize any future negotiations with Healthway. The positive features of the SSL were that it ‘brings to the public of WA an elite competition with the speed and skill of both young and mature players, the spectacle of games at Mirrabooka stadium, the use of home grounds, and the unification of men’s and women’s competition at club level’.


For the 1995-96 season the officials were Martin Lamers (Chairman), Ev Harvey (Registrar/Secretary). To fully recognise the sponsor the league was renamed The QUIT Western Fastpitch League. Lamers told Newcomen, the reporter for The West Australian that ‘the name change was to bring the WA game into line with similar competitions in the eastern States which had been running as fastpitch leagues for several seasons and to avoid the adverse reaction to the name softball’.[vi] Another trophy was added to the very extensive list with recognition of the champion club, that is, the best performing club in both the women’s and men’s competition in the qualifying round based on a scale beginning with 10 points for the top team to 1 point for the lowest and the points combined. In retrospect this trophy should have been the most important one since it recognized the essence of State League softball, that it was played by both women and men who were members of the same club. However, little emphasis was given to it, probably because it was introduced later than the others when the emphasis on the premierships was well ensconced.


Enthusiasm continued to run high as the League entered its fifth season in 1996-97. An attempt was made to extend the season to 40 home and away games per team or a total of 440 matches for women and a similar number for men. The WASA refused to ratify this and the season remained at 30 home and away games per team. A 40-match roster would have impacted severely on club training and the preparation of State teams. One innovation saw players elected for a North of the River versus a South of the River challenge with the women competing for the Shirley Roberts Shield and the men for the Eric Knight Shield in Senior and 21 and Under divisions. However, there were an increasing number of issues which resulted in clubs being fined: late submission of score cards; failure to undertake canteen duty; failure to rake the diamonds and forfeits. These were probably the outcome of broader changes such as the combining of the tightly controlled women’s competition with the men’s more relaxed approach. The League was increasing troubled by players and supporters unwilling to abide by smoking and drinking regulations. Players – especially males - continued to dispute the requirement to pay to enter Mirrabooka. While the WASA Board and advocates for the enclosed stadium at Mirrabooka had always understood that a fence meant an entry fee those who had traditionally driven to their home ground and walked onto the unfenced diamond did not accept this concept. As well, softball players would have been aware from the increasing media coverage of the conditions in other elite sports. Australian Rules footballers and cricketers were paid substantial sums and did not have to pay to enter their stadia or undertake chores like canteen duty.


The following season saw the reduction of home and away matches from 30 to 20 with no play on Wednesday evenings. Each club had six home games except Kalamunda Knights which had five. Four tournaments were scheduled: one pre-season in September, one in October with the women playing at SEMSA grounds, one in November with both women and men at SEMSA and two in January. As Sandy Humble, the Social Coordinator responsible for organizing the tournaments, explained in the Annual Report the ‘Tournaments were set up to be a fundraising venture for all clubs, where each club gave $100 to offset the initial costs. All participating clubs were allocated duties for each Tournament’. The host clubs generated funds through its bar and canteen. Tournaments were essentially a complete round robin of matches held over one weekend. Geraldton was invited to attend and the Indonesian men’s fastpitch team accepted an invitation to the first tournament held over the long weekend in October prior to the commencement of the season. Twenty teams participated with opinion divided about whether or not there ‘were too many games too soon or it was a good opportunity to blood some new players and prepare them for the season’. Humble concluded that the Tournaments ‘were a success with the main objective being to provide the clubs with a small income. Some expenses were more than what we anticipated, however each club received their nomination fee plus extra’. Chairperson Pauline O’Connor conducted some ad hoc research by discussing the tournaments with players and concluded that the players were ‘in favour of going back to 30 games with only one tournament, or making each tournament compulsory, with points from tournaments going towards the ladder’. She recommended serious thought be given to this. The significance of tournaments gained attention as the League matured. As WA and Australian representative Neal Delpero pointed out all championship events in softball such as national and world championships were played as tournaments. Hence tournaments within the SSL schedule were vital to the preparation of State teams. The round robin SSL provided more softball, the tournaments provided the intensity of elite competition.


Stirling Centrals and Morley Magic began ground rationalization by playing their December home matches at Stirling Centrals grounds and their January matches at Morley Magic’s grounds even though they were not playing each other. It was suggested that there ought to be a reduction from 11 to 8 clubs but no club was willing to make the first move. The general argument centred on concern about the quality of the matches with some being of the very best standard but many were poor and there were an increasing number of forfeits. Some people felt that the League was only fulfilling its aim of improving standards for members of the State Under 16 and Under 19 teams with no change in the performance of the Seniors. In the Annual Report Pauline O’Connor was highly critical. Working from the premise that the SSL had been established to ‘promote and develop ELITE PLAYERSshe observed that this had not happened (Emphasis in original). Several meetings were held during the year to address the problem and O’Connor’s words are very telling:

After two meetings we decided that we were doing it right. Our Club/ Association has the best junior development; Our Club/Association has the most players; Our Club/ Association has the elite coaches/ scorers/managers; Our Club/ Association attends all the meetings; Our Club/Association is the most financial; Our Club/Association does not poach players etc. We are fooling ourselves if we believe that. If we are doing it the right way we would never have had to have this meeting in the first place. (Emphasis in original)

O’Connor challenged people to redefine the word “OUR” to mean all softballers not just the people at our Club/Association. LOOK AT THE BIG PITCURE, look at the future. If we continue on the path we have set our standard will only go down further and this will lead to poorer performances at the National Level. (Emphasis in original)

O’Connor also addressed the contentious issue of the relationship between the WASA Board and the SSL:

Attending Board meetings over the last 17 months has opened my eyes. For many months I felt we were hitting our heads against a brick wall. It was always them and us. “State League has brought our sport down”; if I have heard this comment once I have heard it many times. But I believe things are changing, slow as they may seem, it is happening. We must work with the Board (YOUR BOARD); let’s clean up our own backyard and then we have the right to show the Board how to suck eggs. The Board is about to be revamped and this may lead to a more “user friendly Board”. (Emphasis is the original)


What is missing (or has not been located by the author) is any regular numerical analysis of the SSL such as that in the 1997-98 Registrar’s Report prepared by Ev Harvey. She noted that the League had 163 women players with 5 deregistered and 154 men with 4 deregistered. More telling were the clearances: 43 men and 31 women. This equates to 27.9 percent of men and 19 percent of women changing clubs. The original intent of locally based clubs had not succeeded. Players wanted to be with friends. Teams wanted the best players (even if it meant one team had an abundance of pitchers sitting on the bench). One of the criticisms leveled at the teams was that they were not making full use of their allocation of 16 players. Figures Harvey provided support this. Wanneroo Twins women’s team had just 11 players while Peel Pirates had 16. Of the men’s teams Southdale Spectres had just 12 players while Bedford Invasion, Morley Magic, Southside Mariners and Stirling Centrals had 13 each. If clubs had taken up their full allocation there would have been 176 women and 176 men playing in the SSL. Or, to put it another way, 13 women and 20 men were missing out on the opportunity to play elite softball in WA.


The League was renamed the Smokefree Western Fastpitch State Softball League for the 1998-99 season to give more recognition to the major sponsors, the QUIT Campaign. The proposed budget for the season was $42,000 with almost $16,000 allocated to pay the umpires. The ongoing disputes about entry fees came to a head when the WASA decided to lift it to $3 per person to cover payment of a security guard and gateman. The League objected and wanted the fee to remain at $2 with no guard. Don Brooks, the original gateman had relinquished the position because of the abuse towards him. The Executive of the League were all women who felt threatened by some of the aggressive non-paying males.  The umpires also objected and threatened to withdraw their services if they had to pay. The League issued an ultimatum to the umpires that they should umpire all League matches or none at all. In her monthly report to the WASA September Board meeting State Director of Umpiring (SDU) Julie Richardson pointed out that ‘there is no one Umpire’s Association responsible or directly attached to the State League Competition. Umpires are invited from various Associations to provide their experience and services to the competition at the request of the State Umpiring Committee’. Peter Baker undertook the onerous task of go-between and managed to negotiate a partial resolution. He became ‘an invited guest for all [SSL] meetings to represent the umpires’.


The women’s competition faced some new challenges when first the WAIS team and then Perth Thunder, WA’s team in the National Fastpitch League, entered tournaments outside of WA which conflicted with SSL matches. The WAIS team (which included many of the Perth Thunder players) toured New Zealand in November 1998 and took with it a number of elite players from several SSL teams. Perth Thunder was forced to fly out of Perth for matches in Melbourne on the evening originally planned for the SSL Grand Final. As a result the men’s and women’s grand finals were played on different evenings which League Chairperson Pauline O’Connor considered ‘put a damper on the end of the season’.


O’Connor temporarily resigned from the Chair when she felt unable to adequately represent the League on the WASA Board because the League believed that it should have precedence over other demands on the elite players. WASA President, Phil Matthewson, chaired the SSL meeting in January 1999 when O’Connor agreed to resume after she was re-assured that she was the best person to serve as Chairperson. In her Annual Report she urged WAIS, the Perth Thunder and the WASA to take a ‘more professional approach’. She also felt that the clubs should be making better use of their bench players. Unfortunately the League was also confronted with an increasing number of players committing offences which required the Protests and Disputes Tribunal to convene on a regular basis. To ensure consistency in the penalties the League submitted a schedule offences and penalties for ratification by the WASA Board for the following season. At the League’s AGM in March 1999 the reduction of clubs was again hotly debated with a vote resolving to maintain the status quo. During 1999 the WASA had thoroughly revised its Constitution and as the SSL prepared for the 1999-2000 season it did so under a different structure. The League Chairperson was no longer a Board member, rather the League along with the Summer, Winter and Veterans competitions came under the jurisdiction of the Board member responsible for Competitions. Furthermore, it was suggested that the League should consider restructuring.


The SSL continued to debate how best to improve the quality of softball matches with the reduction of clubs becoming the perennial agenda item. It was clear with the number of clearances sought that the original notion of restricting players to their residential zones had not worked partly because it had not been strictly enforced and had been undermined by a generous system of permits. The crux of the matter was that players wanted to play with the friends and/or the best team. There were also accusations that coaches were poaching players and that there were under the table payments to a small number of players. Given the unrest it was not surprising that the WASA voted against an SSL request to commence a reserve grade competition for the 2000-01 season. The meeting in July 1999 to confirm the season’s fixture became heated as Bunbury City Blues through Bruce Freeman argued to have more games in Bunbury to minimize their travel and accommodation costs. Despite this, Bunbury still advocated a 40-game season. While each club wanted what was best for its teams, there was a lack of willingness to take on the onerous task of drawing up the fixtures. O’Connor had attempted to modify the one from the previous season and incorporate the requests of clubs but with so many to be satisfied plus considering the needs of Perth Thunder, the task was particularly difficult.


Peel Pirates upped the ante in October when they sought legal advice for the deduction of points after the Registrar determined that they had played an unregistered player. Peel Pirate’s solicitor argued that the boundary rules were inapplicable since they were not spelled out in the competition rules and that it was highly unlikely such rules could be enforced. It appeared that a registration had been lodged but not received. Peel Pirate’s solicitor threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court. The matter was resolved before the threat was enacted.  Umpiring continued to be contentious. The season had started well with 19 available but by season’s end there were only 9. The situation was compounded by concern about whether umpires should be sanctioned to participate in national championships if they were not available for SSL. In a very comprehensive end of season review, Julie Richardson, SDU, questioned the League’s decision to take away the umpires’ control of matches while expecting them to perform their regular calling duties. Richardson claimed that the ‘competition seems to have denigrated too far to allow for any bandaid solutions’. She challenged the League to ‘make big decisions and to implement radical changes to the competition of which, the number of teams and ground rules, should be considered’Increasingly there were calls to reduce the number of teams but few examples were put on paper. Patrick O’Connor demonstrated one possibility to reduce from 11 to 8 teams. The men’s and women’s teams for five clubs (Southside Mariners, Bunbury City Blues, Southdale Spectres, Bedford Invasion and Stirling Central) would be retained. Of the remaining six Wanneroo Twins men would partner Morley Eagles (previously Magic) women, Peel Pirates men and Coastal Rookies women would be another pairing while Eastern Monarchs men and Kalamunda Knights women would make up the final combination. The geographical separation of the six-paired teams worked against the implementation of this proposal. [vii]


Coastal Rookies struggled to field a men’s team. After four matches of the 2000-01 season Rookies asked if they could withdraw its men’s team. ‘They were told that if they did so then their women would be withdrawn and so they persisted with both teams at … great duress to all concerned’. Rookies Softball Club made the first reform move at the SSL meeting in March 2000 when it ‘apologized for any inconveniences caused by their men’s team who had several forfeits throughout the year. Coastal Rookies wants it put on the agenda for the AGM that this competition be based on teams not clubs’. In a very detailed follow-up letter to WASA President, Phil Matthewson, Rookies Secretary, Meagan Johnston, indicated that it would be unlikely to field a men’s team for the following season. Two reasons were advanced: (a) Rookies simply did not have enough men to form a team; and (b) the club wished to return to ‘its roots as a women’s softball club’. Coastal Rookies was ‘the playing name of the State League teams of Rookies’. Johnston then argued the case as to why Rookies should be able to enter just a women’s team in the SSL. The first argument challenged the WASA’s Constitution, By-Laws and Regulations and the SSL Rules of Match Play which Rookies claimed did not include a rule stipulating that ‘a club field both men’s and women’s State League teams’. Rookies’ case placed the onus on the WASA to act on what was written rather than on myth that had originated with the inception of the SSL.


The second argument queried the consequences on the rest of the SSL and suggestions that other clubs would be inconvenienced was ‘nothing more than a fixturing exercise’. The notion that the men’s and women’s competitions would have to be run separately was dismissed by Johnston who could not see any need for change to the present administration. The third argument canvassed the possibility that the requirement might in fact breach the State Sex Discrimination Act. Johnston concluded by stressing Rookies’ right ‘to field a top grade women’s softball team which is a right our club has enjoyed for 50 years and a right which we will vigorously defend’.[viii] The letter was circulated to the WASA Board with Lorraine Malcolm directed to provide ‘policy information at the Board meeting, so a quick decision is made’.[ix] At the SSL AGM later in April, Johnston acknowledged that Matthewson had replied to her letter indicating that ‘women can’t play without a men’s team’. She then reiterated her argument that such a rule did not exist in any documentation, that is, it breached the Sex Discrimination Act and that no other Olympic sport had a similar requirement. A lengthy discussion followed at the end of which it was revealed that Rookies had not discussed the matter but rather Johnston had initiated the clubs versus teams argument. As she was not an official delegate the discussion was terminated.[x] Rookies then prevailed on their Patron and local Member of Parliament, Dr Liz Constable, to write to the WASA on their behalf.[xi] It was tabled but no further action taken.


Behind the scenes, however, there had been considerable action and at the June WASA Board of Management Meeting a recommendation was discussed to allow Coastal Rookies and Wanneroo Twins ‘to run side-by-side as a male/female ‘State League Club’ until full amalgamation next season’. It was eventually resolved that ‘both clubs be allowed to run side-by-side with one name (ie Wanneroo Rookies, or Coastal Twins), using one ground, they are permitted to wear existing uniforms, one voting right as a club at SWFL meetings and AGM, constitution to be amended before May/2001’. For the 2000-01 season teams entered as Twins Rookies.


While this situation was of major concern to its stakeholders, it was only one of many problems that plagued the WASA. In July 2000 the WASA set up an Operational Review of all of its activities. In November the report was presented to a Special Meeting. Of particular concern to the SSL was Recommendation 14 which stated that an ‘Investigation be undertaken to establish whether or not the State League’s current form of operation still provides the benefits an elite competition should, and whether as an elite competition it should be managed by Softball WA’. To combat criticism that players did not know about the Review or the recommendations, SSL Chairperson, Pauline O’Connor took the unusual step of writing to each SSL player to invite her/him to a meeting in January 2001 to gain their input on improving the League. O’Connor wanted input on how the elite competition should proceed. She indicated two key issues which needed resolution: ‘(a) Should your Club have to have a male and female team to play in this competition?; and (b) Should the number of teams/clubs be 11 or should they be reduced to 8?’ O’Connor indicated that the WASA was beginning to implement the recommendations of the Operational Review and stated that ‘unless the players stand up for their own competition then a committee formed by the Board of Management will do it for you. Which would you prefer?The SSL then set up a sub-committee to follow up. Members of the sub-committee were: O’Connor (Chairperson), two Senior men’s players (Cameron Edwards and Shane Thomson, both from Bedford Invasion), two Senior women’s players (Nicole Winston, Southside Mariners, and Emma Griffiths, Twins Rookies), Trevor Howard (who had facilitated the Operational Review), Joanne Donnan (State Coaching Director), John Mooy (Umpires) and Ev Harvey (Registrar).


Lorraine Malcolm was invited to represent the WASA Board but declined because of time constraints and concerns about a conflict of interest as a key member of Bedford Invasion. Peter Baker offered to do this. The composition of the sub-committee continued to be an ongoing concern as the affiliate associations which were feeder organizations of some SSL clubs were not represented. There was also a strong undercurrent which focused on the independence or otherwise of the SSL from the WASA with a resultant mantra ‘If we don’t restructure, the Board will do it for us’. The emphasis shifted to the process of the Review rather than responding to the recommendations. The SSL was anxious about the requirement that its deliberations and recommendations be vetted by the Operational Review Committee before proceeding to the WASA Board. Baker attempted to assure the SSL that this move was to ensure that the proposals from the SSL were compatible with the other competitions (Summer, Winter and Veterans). Baker indicated that the sub-committee was giving consideration to six teams and that areas would be the focus rather than clubs. The debate also included discussion of the need for clubs to field both women’s and men’s teams and resolved that ‘we move from being a CLUB based competition to a TEAM based competition and that the number of TEAMS permitted in each gender be between 6-8’ (Emphasis in original). On March 15 a draft review document was distributed to all SSL clubs which were asked to report back on a list of options presented under 7 issues summarized below.

Issue 1: Number of teams in State League

   Option 1: stay as we are
   Option 2: maintain 11 clubs with the WASA Board running the competition with no SSL committee

   Option 3: 4 teams north of  river, 4 south of river. Start afresh

   Option 4: 3 north 3 south

Issue 2: Criteria minimum accreditations of Head coach

(Level 2 or Working on it by 2003-04); Assistant Coach (Level 1); Scorers (Level 3 by 2003-04); and, Manager (optional but must have First Aid qualification or Level 1 Sports trainer. If a team opted not to have a Manager then one of other officials must have first aid qualifications)

Issue 3: Development

· All State league teams must align themselves with at least 2 Teams/Clubs within their area. Must have in place an approved programme of junior development

· All State League teams must be involved in WASA based junior development (that is, when any type of clinic is being conducted the SSL club must provide personnel to assist)

Issue 4: Minimum Standards Finance

Issue 5: Minimum Standards Grounds

Issue 6: Contractural Agreements which included length of season; meeting attendance; acceptance of the fixtures; and, attendance at a pre-season compulsory technical meeting

Issue 7: Management of State  League
   Option 1: Management Committee answerable to the WASA Board

   Option 2: SSL Committee given more power to look after its own competition


The meeting on 15 April began with the reading of a letter from Southdale Spectres on behalf of six of the SSL clubs expressing concern ‘that the review was moving too fast and the timeline given was not sufficient to allow all Clubs to digest all the information’. Nor were all clubs were privy to the letter. Coastal Rookies and Kalamunda Knights were justifiably angered because it had been assumed that they would respond according to their representatives on the Review Committee. Discussion was intense resulting in the SSL abandoning the Review Committee and opting to hold a meeting of SSL Club presidents. Perhaps the most telling comment noted in the Minutes was ‘that clubs had tried in the past to do a restructure of their League but could not get past their own club’s interests’SSL Club Presidents (or their delegates) met on 10 May and discussed standards of play. The consensus was that standards were about the same as those in the early days of the League but the ‘fall off in standard from the top few teams is probably quicker and bigger now, especially in the women’s competition’. The reasons for this revolved around the overall fall in participation with fewer women playing both SSL and Summer/SEMSA and fewer men playing SSL and Winter/Dale; the separation of the SSL teams from their origins in clubs playing lower grade softball at Yokine and SEMSA thus disrupting the progression from junior to senior ranks; the playing of SSL matches at different venues from lower grades; and, the lack of a men’s summer competition for lower grades. Attention was directed at how SSL players could contribute to junior development which was seen to be particularly difficult when the juniors may not even be aware of the SSL because of the physical separation of various competitions. One suggestion was to negotiate a fixturing exercise with the Summer Competition to have a League Club with Summer teams all playing at Mirrabooka on the same day with seniors to help with juniors and juniors to watch SSL matches. Finally, the Presidents agreed that ‘we should have fewer clubs in the short to medium term’. This in turn gave rise to a discussion of the mechanism for clubs leaving or entering the SSL with Coastal Rookies recapping their experiences. A proposal for temporary mergers for one or two seasons was mooted.


Baker, in his monthly report to the WASA Board on behalf of the SSL Review Committee, foreshadowed that the Clubs would vote to retain the status quo with the Review to be an ongoing process. It was expected that the WASA Board would ‘oversee all activities until decisions on the League will be acceptable to all involved’. Baker’s insights were reasonably accurate. By foregoing the opportunity to restructure the SSL unwittingly set itself on the path towards its demise. The Coastal Rookies saga continued with the League assuming the Twins Rookies alliance a fait accompli. A letter from Gary Collie on 27 April announced that the matter had been resolved resulting in a new club, the Twin City Rookies- ‘the name was chosen to incorporate the names of the existing clubs and the area we represent being the Twin Cities of Joondalup and Wanneroo’.[xii] However, in May Rookies members voted at their AGM not to proceed with the merger prompting Rookies President Cheryl Leonard to detail injustices Rookies perceived they had experienced and challenged the WASA Board to undertake a thorough review of the League. However, Rookies’ players who wished to play State League were able to do so by joining the Twin City Lakers which was a new name for the Wanneroo Twins and was supported by Wanneroo Twins, Warwick Sports Club and former Coastal Rookies players. The new club opted for a new uniform but retained its home ground at Warwick Open Space. There was, however, a need for clarification of the clearance regulations for former Coastal Rookies players. [xiii]


By default the reduction of teams had commenced. The 2001-02 season saw the withdrawal of Kalamunda Knights reducing the SSL to nine teams. Knights’ end was predictable. Knights were short of players and included of a 10-year-old boy on its list. In February 2001 the League responded with a new ground rule precluding players under 13 years of age playing in the SSL. The SSL based its case for the new rule on its concerns for its and the clubs for legal responsibilities. There were also issues about the impact on the standard of play. Peel Pirates revealed their problems in March when they asked for permission to play 15-year-old Alan Brookes in their men’s finals. The squad had been cut to nine players because of injury. Brookes had already played 3 games as pinch runner. Peel Pirates did not return for the 2003-04 season. Debate about the format of the SSL was ongoing. Bunbury City Blues through its coaches Kym Pyke[xiv] and David Salmon[xv], as well as Neal Delpero[xvi], Chris Hoffman[xvii] and Twin City Lakers all prepared papers looking beyond 2003-04 season.


The decision was finally made to have teams and not clubs which saw a clear split in nominations between the men and women. Eight women’s teams nominated compared with just five men’s. Southdale Spectres men dropped out after the Christmas break. The women played 21 home and away games; the men played 16. Bedford Invasion, Southdale Spectres and Twin City Lakers used Mirrabooka as their home ground. Eastern Monarchs withdrew for the 2004-05 season leaving seven women’s teams. The men’s competition scrambled to four teams with the inclusion of the Under 19 Men’s State team. However, the three teams struggled without their Under 19 representatives. Apart from women’s games in Bunbury, all other matches were played at Mirrabooka on Friday nights and Sundays. There was a resurgence in the women’s competition in the 2005-06 season when Balga Bandits and Willeton Wild Cats joined to make an eight-team competition. The men’s competition had five teams including Balga Bandits which only managed one season in each competition. For the 2006-07 season the SSL stabilised with seven women’s and four men’s teams which continued into the next season. However, with just four teams the men’s competition was completed before Christmas and the men indicated that they would be returning to the Winter Competition for 2008 in the hope of strengthening its Division 1. This meant that the men’s State teams lacked elite competition in summer before their national champion- ships. Six women’s teams including newcomers Jaguars contested the 2008-09 season. Twin City Lakers had sufficient depth of talent with the inclusion of some Eastern States players to field two teams.


In summary, the development of the Mirrabooka stadium provided the WASA with an opportunity to embrace a new approach to softball – complementary men’s and women’s competitions. For the first decade it worked reasonably well although it was undermined by the club’s focusing on their own performances rather than considering the long-term viability of the League. While the League rostered the men’s and women’s fixtures as a unified sport, it was left to the clubs to determine the relationship between their two teams. The introduction of a champion club trophy was a positive step towards unification but premierships were more important. As a new entity in softball, the SSL was cut off from its grassroots and did not develop traditions anywhere near as strong as those of the Summer and Winter competitions and the various suburban affiliates which appeared to operate far more smoothly than the League and were able to negotiate the turmoil brought about by the Operational Review and ongoing change. Or, perhaps these competitions with lesser ability senior players and juniors intent on having fun, were spared the intensity (ego) of players and officials motivated by the possibility of membership of a State team. The League hankered for independence but was subservient to the WASA Board which produced a “them-and-us” mentality with each suspicious of the others motives.


The State Softball League provided an opportunity for WA softball to maximize the use of its state-of-the-art stadium at Mirrabooka in the 1990s. While the League format was unique to softball, the League was part of a broader move in WA sport whereby the major sports like hockey, netball and basketball attempted to elevate their elite competitions with the hope of garnering more spectator, community and sponsor support. Leagues provided players with an elite local competition which by inference was supposed to better equip the players for State and national representation. Various attempts were made to include teams/clubs from outside the metropolitan area but as with most ventures in WA the sheer size of the State pitted idealism against practicalities. Costs and time were prohibitive for the inclusion of any teams/clubs beyond a 200km radius.


For almost a decade the SSL maintained a heavy roster of matches but a lack of consensus about future development and especially a reduction to a more manageable number of teams seems to have sown the seeds for its eventually demise. With a tradition of over 40 years of regular competition, the WASA could be forgiven for expecting that the SSL to continued through the next 40 years. In retrospect, the expectation for such longevity was no longer viable and more innovative approaches with shorter time frames will probably determine future patterns of participation. For people who love their sport, they can never get enough of it but in retrospect the League was probably a victim of “too much of a good thing”.


[i] Western Australian State Softball League. Playing Rules and Regulations 1992/1993 Season. Clause 4.5 (2).

[ii] Newcomen, Rowena. (Monday 16 November 1992). Magic roll on to six straight. The West Australian, p. 92.

[iii] Newcomen, Rowena. (Saturday 14 November 1992). New state league a hit with Ebert. The West Australian, p. 79.

[iv] Newcomen, Rowena. (Friday 24 September 1993). Bunbury boost for softball. The West Australian, p. 79.

[v] Newcomen, Rowena. (Saturday 1 October 1994). Canadians boost softball league. The West Australian, p. 103.

[vi] Newcomen, Rowena. (Saturday 30 September 1995). Softball pitches in with new image. The West Australian, p. 113.

[vii] Pat O’Connor

[viii] Johnston, Meagan. (5 April 2000). Letter to Phil Matthewson, President of WASA.

[ix] WASA Executive Meeting (12 April 2000). Minutes.

[x] Smokefree Western Fastpitch State Softball League. (19 April 2000). Minutes of AGM.

[xi] Smokefree Western Fastpitch State Softball League. (18 May 2000). Minutes. Letter was acknowledged in incoming correspondence but there was no further mention of it.

[xii] Collie, Gary (27 April 2001). Letter to WASA.

[xiii] Mizen, Nicole (10 July 2001). Letter to Smokefree Western Fastpitch Softball League.

[xiv] pyke

[xv] Pyke, K & McEvoy, V. (n.d.) State League Competition 2003/04 and Beyond

Salmon, D. (nd) Western Fastpitch State League 2003/04

[xvi] Delpero, Neal (nd) Draft proposal for State League Softball

[xvii] Hoffman, Chris (14 August 2003) State League Softball in Western Australia