Chapter 11 - WA Women Since 1984

Chapter 11 



Like the ASF the WASA has continued to focus on its women’s teams. However, the Senior Women’s team was WA’s Achilles heel languishing behind NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT. With the shortened and more intense format of the national championships there was a need for the players to accept that seven days of a national championship demanded a much higher degree of physical fitness than the once a week club competition. Not all players understood this. In 1986 Coach Shirley Schneider sought the help of specialist fitness adviser, Anne White from the University of Western Australia, to raise standards. This was particularly important the following year when the championships were held in Darwin in January and players had to cope with weight losses of 2 or more kilograms per day and to increase their fluid intake to offset this. In 1987 Dr Lynn Embrey from the Sports Science program at Edith Cowan University took charge of the fitness development including regular fitness testing and a weekly weights and circuit program at the university for the squad. When the team was selected she supervised all fitness work at training. In 1990 and 1991 she traveled with the team at her own expense to supervise warm-ups and cool-downs and any players given special guidelines after visits to physiotherapists. Embrey combined her work as fitness adviser with Manager in 1993. Not all players accepted the emerging emphasis on physical fitness and opted to work independently although doubts were cast on their commitment and effort. In an attempt to increase the awareness of the players of the demands of elite sport, Maree Fish, a former Olympic hockey gold medalist and Sports Scientist, directed the fitness program in 1994 and 1995. Major changes began when softball was accepted into Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) in1997 as part of the ITC programme.


The Women’s Open team continued to be plagued by disharmony. Joanne Donnan, captain of the 1987 team, declared that she would not stand again while Shirley Schneider was coach. When Schneider was reappointed, Donnan officially protested in writing to the Management Committee. President Page defended Schneider pointing out that none of the other WA State coaches had been successful. Alf Bunting attempted to throw the problem back on the players and was quoted in the June Management Committee Meeting as stating that the ‘players lacked the dedication of past players. If 100% dedicated [they] would play under any coach’. T Stewart believed that such accusations were directed at the WASA itself. ‘We as an Association elected this person and in our judgment chose the best person for the job and there was no need for further discussion’. Schneider responded by indicating that she had sought assistance from the newly established WA Institute of Sport for a pre-season training programme but she was disappointed in the poor attitude of the players. The debate continued at the Management Committee meeting in August when South Perth Angels suggested that the premiership A Grade coach should be the State Senior Coach but there was doubt that this person would be available or suitable. The discussion extended to consideration of the approach used by the NSWSA whereby all players for State teams attended trials together with the Senior team selected first followed by the Under 19 then Under 16.


While it must be stressed that the majority of players have been team players, not all players have put the team before self. Just a small number have rebelled causing problems of a far greater magnitude than one individual’s misdemeanors warrants. During the 1980s and early 1990s the reports from a succession of manageresses indicated that the behaviour of some players was far from satisfactory. In 1981 Val Prunster had felt it necessary to list five points she thought the WASA needed to bring to the attention of future teams:

(a) the ability to criticize one’s own performance and not let it cause team morale to spiral downwards; (b) a willingness to bounce back after defeats; (c) the need for players to leave personal problems at home and focus on the team; (d) adherence to the team rules and (e) responsible consumption of alcohol.


These points also underpinned Roma Piercy’s 1985 Manageress’ report. She recommended that the team rules be clearly presented to all potential representatives before the squad was chosen to avoid negative remarks like ‘we wouldn’t have stood if we had known how strict it would be’. Piercy particularly wanted the rules to address training commitments, curfews while away, phone calls to home, going out alone and dress when not in uniform. Piercy and Prunster had, at various national championships, spent agonizing nights trying to locate players who had left the team accommodation without advising anyone of their whereabouts. In 1988 in Brisbane, Prunster had to deal with a very unpleasant situation when police were called to investigate the theft of a player’s credit card from her motel room. Much to the horror of the whole team, the culprit was another player. Prunster then had to supervise her during a court appearance. Reports also frequently referred noted some players treated the national championship as a holiday. The assumption by the players was, it seemed, that we are paying the levy to represent the State so we can do as we please. This overlooked that fact that until 2000 the WASA paid far more of the airfares and accommodation than what the players contributed in levies. Numerous recommendations that the WASA hold meetings of all team officials before teams’ departures were not taken up. Apart from brief, general job descriptions team officials were left to their own devices to work out what was required.


Preparation for the 1988 national championships included a strong focus on batting. Assistant Coach Peter Tilley, a pitcher in the Winter Competition, pitched at training sessions and delivered faster pitches than the team faced in their regular club matches. Renowned WA baseball player, Bob Ossey, took one specialized training session for batters. These efforts paid off at the national championship with three players batting over 300 and Vicki Grant (nee Baker) batting .485. She batted in 12 runs and won the inaugural Sybil Turner Medal for the best batting average. Despite these outstanding efforts the team finished fifth.  Tension continued to bubble under the surface. Fourth place in 1989 eased the situation a little but it intensified in 1990 when the team slipped to sixth. Seventh, fifth and sixth placings by the Senior, Under 19 and Under 16 teams respectively in1991 caused the bubble to burst pitting senior players against the administration and coaches. Players accused the coaches of not focusing on basic skills or utilizing knowledgeable players like former Australian and Queensland Judy Young who had relocated to Perth with her husband, Mike Young, coach of the Perth Heat baseball team. The State coaches responded by shifting the focus to the club coaches who did not develop young players but poached them from each other. The State coaches also expressed concern with the attitude and fitness of the players. More softball matches and more intense training were needed to toughen the players physically and mentally.1


Hosting the national championships in 1992 was seen as an opportunity for the WASA to show local supporters that the Senior women were still a force in Australian softball. WA had the home ground advantage at Mirrabooka stadium. After a less then encouraging start to the tournament, the team managed to work its way back into contention and caused a major upset by defeating its old nemesis Victoria 2-1 in the elimination final in eight innings. In the preliminary final against NSW scores were tied at nil-all until the seventh innings when NSW scored twice and went through to the grand final. Queensland took the title.  As per the constitution the WASA called for nominations for the Senior women’s coaching position in March 1992. There were two applicants: Shirley Schneider and Sue Brakjovich, a former State and Australian player. In May the panel set up to interview the applicants reported that they were unable to make a recommendation as it was felt that both applicants were appropriate. A ballot was then conducted among Board Members. Schneider was appointed for two years. At the July meeting Lorraine Malcolm queried the wording of the Minutes. Graeme Rector reiterated the Panel’s recommendation adding that it ‘could possibly be time for a change’. Rector had for some time been attempting to introduce a policy whereby coaches for all six State teams were appointed for set periods long enough to demonstrate their ability and have success after which they would step down. They could nominate to coach at other levels but not have excessively long tenures. He also recommended that an exit procedure be put in place that allowed coaches to leave without being forced out. There was little support for Rector’s ideas and a policy was not formulated. Perhaps Rector had some premonition of what was to come.


After finishing a very promising third in 1992, there were great expectations for the 1993 team but the championship in Hobart was a disaster. WA finished seventh. Long suffering WA supporters lead by experienced A grade player, Jeanie Autunovich, publicly criticized Schneider in The West Australian and called for her removal but felt the Board of Management was unlikely to act. Players like Kelly Hardie and Gail Clarke followed Autunovich’s lead.2 The Board acted within a week.3 An inquiry was held resulting in the termination of Schneider’s appointment. Schneider’s immediate response was to resign from all her softball positions but she was eventually persuaded to continue as State Director of Coaching. In a letter to The West Australian, David Johnston noted he was President of Nedlands Rookies Softball Club but he had written the letter as an individual.4 He expressed amazement at the treatment of Schneider pointing out that the failure of the women’s State team was not her responsibility alone and that the Under 16 and Under 19 teams had not enjoyed any success either. Johnston suggested that the Board was at fault for not developing clear policies for State team coaching and selection. Showing a clear grasp of Schneider’s contribution to WA softball, he noted ‘her contribution to the administration of the sport will not be appreciated until there is nobody to do the job’. He then urged the Board to find a new group of coaches unencumbered by past experiences.


Brendon Bower, a former member of the WA and Australian Senior Men’s team, was appointed Senior Women’s coach in May 1993. Bower had previous coaching experience in his native New Zealand before migrating to Australia in 1989. He played for Stirling Centrals in the Winter Competition. At the men’s national championships he won the batting average award with .480 and at the 1992 Senior Men’s World Championships had been ranked in the top 10 batters. He favoured an aggressive, attacking style of play.5 Initially there was a positive response with more players attending selection trials than there had been for some years. Bower, with his assistants Joanne Donnan and Steve Migro, conducted five weeks of squad training for approximately 40 players followed by trails consisting of simulated matches. At the national championship the team finished fifth. However, Senior women’s softball lapsed back into its previous pattern with only 25 attending trials for the 1995 team. Like his predecessors Bower was left to ponder why players were not standing: was it because they spent too long in the Under 19s or did the players decide that WA was not competitive with other States and so had no incentive to stand?6 Bower introduced a number of changes to the women’s game including a more complex set of signals, more emphasis on base running and switching hitting, all tactics that had proven successful with the men’s teams. Injuries to pitchers Kelly Hardie and Canadian import Kim Turner were unfortunate blows to the team just two weeks before the nationals. Tracey Stagg and Canadian import, Marie Green, replaced them. Another pitcher, Sandy Touchell, overcame a broken arm. The team did not respond as anticipated and slipped to sixth at the national championships held in Darwin. Bower resigned in April 1995.


Joanne Donnan was appointed for 1996. As the Intensive Training Centre (ITC) coach she was WA’s first professional coach. The ITC was accepted into the WA Institute of Sport in 1997 with funding from the WASA and ASF as part of the preparation for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Donnan had access to the best sports science in WA to build on the tactics introduced by Bower. Donnan then went further and encouraged batters to use their own initiative to determine the best type of hit to use.7 The pitching department was depleted when Kelly Hardie left WA in June 1995 to join the Panthers club in Brisbane and was one of two new players in the 1996 Queensland team. She had progressed through WA teams from Under 16 to Seniors. The move paid off for Hardie in 1997 when she earned a place in the Australian team and pitched the team to an historic win over the USA in the prestigious Superball Tournament, the first defeat for the hosts in this tournament in 14 years.8 She was also a member of Australian teams which won medals at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympic Games.

Despite finishing sixth, the 1998 team showed a glimpse of a positive future as reported in the ASF Yearbook:

With no pick-up players, Western Australia were the surprise packet of the tournament. The Sandgropers unearthed a potential star in 18-year old pitcher Chantelle James who pitched a huge tournament, forced to do most of the work throughout the tournament. Offensively, Nicole Mizen batted at .480, the equal of Sally McCreedy, Sarah Lockett batted at .439 and Melissa Robertson and Michelle Edwards were strong in the box.


At the conclusion of the national championship two players – Nicole Mizen and Sarah Lockett – were the first West Australians to be selected in the national squad for eight years when they were included in the squad for the South Pacific Classic in New Zealand in February. Mizen had previously been in an Australian Under 19 squad but it had taken her some time to perform at a level which attracted the eyes of the national Senior selectors. At the nationals she was runner-up for the MVP award. She batted .440, had an on-base average of .643 and a fielding average of 1.000. Lockett, who was still eligible for the Under 19 team was runner-up in the batting award with .480. Unfortunately, neither player was selected for the Australian team for the World Championships in July in Japan.9 However, it was sufficient to motivate WA softballers. The exciting step was the entry of the Perth Thunder in the National Fastpitch League. All players who had tried out for the Under 19 and Senior Women’s team were eligible for selection. Bruce Freeman was the coach. The team played just half the season in Melbourne. In 9 days it played 14 matches and won seven to finish seventh in the eight team league. Writing in The West Australian, Rowena Newcomen suggested that ‘… the eastern States teams might be eternally grateful. Had its quota games been worth double points as compensation, the Thunder could have ended up in the finals’. 10 Melissa Robertson was third in the stolen bases and Chantelle James was sixth best pitcher. Costs had delayed a WA team joining the League when it was formed in 1989 and prevented Perth Thunder playing a full season. A new format of administration was introduced whereby Perth Thunder was a joint venture of the WASA and WAIS run as a company. The inaugural directors were Kevin Fuller, Richard Camm, Allan Shakespeare, Greg Chalk and Marg Quackenbush with Phil Matthewson and Helen Edwards representing the WASA. With its own Board and bank account it was separated from direct WASA control. In recognition of its dual allegiance to the WASA and WAIS green was added to the team colours. The members of the inaugural Perth Thunder team were Melissa Robertson (captain), Catherine Debnam, Bronwyn Devine, Michelle Edwards, Lisa Forde, Nicole Hilbrands, Nicole Humble, Fiona Irvine, Chantelle James, Sarah Lockett, Nicole Mizen, Chris Mouchmore, Michelle Osborne and Kerry Wyborn, the pick-up player from NSW. Melissa Robertson and Nicole Mizen were WA’s most experienced players in the League having both played the previous season with Melbourne Majestics. Perth Thunder drew on players from all three age divisions. Robertson at 24 was also the oldest player in the team; five players were 20 and the other eight were younger. Bronwyn Devine was 15 years old.

Perth Thunder 1998

Back L to R: Lynn Stagg, (Manager) Sarah Lockett, Michelle Edwards, Fiona Irvine, Chantelle James, Bronwyn Devine, Christine Mouchemore, Catherine Debnam

Front L to R: Michelle Osborne, Nicole Humble, Nicole Mizen, Melissa Robertson, Lisa Ford, Nicole Hilbrands, Joanne Donnan (Coach)

WA was now committed to two elite open women’s teams: the State team contesting the Gilleys Shield and Perth Thunder competing in the National Fastpitch League which was billed as the Australia Cup. With the National Fastpitch League still located in the eastern States the travel and accommodation bill for the Senior women increased several fold depending on how many times the team traveled. It also meant that the players and officials had to be available and either ration their annual leave or take leave without pay.

According to the notes in the ASF Yearbook WA were far more highly regarded at the 1999 national championships:

Expectations of Western Australia improving on last year’s impressive onslaught were heightened when, with her first at bat, Sarah Lockett dispatched Queensland’s Australian pitcher Brooke Wilkins over the left field fence. Unfortunately WA struggled to string enough hits together to worry the opposition. Young pitcher

Chantelle James’ improvement was encouraging, and captain Melissa Robertson was “The Rock of Gibraltar” at shortstop.


Perth Thunder’s positive debut in the National Fastpitch League was followed by an eighth placing in the 1998-99 season. Chantelle James was WA’s outstanding player and was the best batter of the tournament at .429. Donnan stepped aside as State coach after she could not lift the team above sixth placing in the national championship. With the completion of talent develop-ment for the 2000 Olympics WAIS reduced its commitment to softball because government funding fell, the coach resigned and the future of the State League was uncertain. Since the WASA Board had strongly supported involvement with WAIS and contributed $10,000 per annum, it was able to negotiate a modified program. Bruce Freeman, coach of Bunbury City Blues team in the State League, was appointed coach of Perth Thunder for the 2000 Australia Cup and coach of the Senior Women for the 2001 Gilleys Shield. Kym Pyke was his assistant. Perth Thunder managed fifth placing in the Australia Cup. Preparation for the 2001 national championships was disrupted by intense controversy about selection procedures, pick-up players, promotion of an Under 19 player to the senior team and doubts about the Board’s support for the coaches. When the Senior Women’s team was presented to the Board for ratification in September Freeman requested permission to name only 13 players and sought approval to delay filling the three remaining positions until: (a) the Sydney Olympics were completed at which point it would be known if any players from other States/Territories were available as pick-up players; (b) the draw for the championship was available when it would then be known as to how many matches were to be played each day; (c) the arrival of a Canadian pitcher who was coming to play with Bunbury City Blues in the State Softball League who was believed to be of State standard; and (d) State League had commenced and potential pitchers observed.


In November 2000 the ACT withdrew its Senior team from the national championships. This left its players in limbo and available as pick-up players by the other States. As well it meant that fewer matches would be played at the nationals. Joanne Donnan WA was informed that two ACT players – Olympian Sally McCreedy and Kate Judd – were interested in playing for WA. If WA could only have one player then it would be Judd as shortstop in place of Leah Quackenbush who had played that position previously but was overseas. However, the WA team had already been ratified with, the coaches believed, the exception of Karen Nicholls but with less games to play there was a likelihood she would get very few, if any, games. The Board believed that it had ratified Nicholls. The only way WA could pick up the ACT players was if one or more WA players withdrew. The Board determined that the Senior team could only have pick-up players if a WA player was injured. Lyn Pyke withdrew. Players were asked if they had been pressured into withdrawing. Pyke was adamant that she withdrew of her own free will. The Bunbury City Blues Canadian pitcher, Erin Crowley, also formally withdrew from the team. The players were left somewhat in limbo and as a group underwent a clearly documented decision-making process whereby they indicated in writing what they wanted and were prepared to accept. Chantelle James was appointed spokesperson. The players supported Freeman and Kim Pyke and most importantly wanted the matter resolved promptly to minimize the disruption to their preparation especially since they wanted to perform at their best in front of the home crowd.


Concurrently, controversy raged over the possibility of upgrading Under 19 pitcher Chermai Clews to the Senior team. Clews had played in the Under 16s in 1999 and 2000 before moving up to the Under 19s. Freeman and Pyke had been in regular contact with the Clews family who lived in Kalgoorlie and had been giving Chermai additional individual training to improve her pitching when she was in Perth to play in the State League for the Southdale Spectres. They believed this was worthwhile since Clews had performed well for Perth Thunder in the National Fastpitch League in 1999. Clews wanted to play for both the Senior and Under 19 teams scheduled in successive weeks. Under 19 coach Lyn Clarkson cast doubts over Clews ability to perform at Senior level and opposed her upgrading. Freeman expressed concern about contact with the Clews family by Board members and the absence of one selector from the trials who was also a Board Member. Freeman and Kym Pyke submitted then withdrew their resignations when the Board agreed to pick-up players. Amidst all of this were allegations that the Board was not supporting the coaches and thus not assisting the team in its quest for a higher placing at the nationals. Figures from the ASF were cited indicating that WA had the highest ratio of coaches to players in Australia. Clews was not elevated. The coaches resigned again. Contact was then made with Dave McKenzie who was touring New Zealand with the Australian men’s team. McKenzie, formerly from New Zealand, had been playing semi-professional softball in the USA when he was urged by former team-mate Brenton Bower to move to WA in the late 1990s. He immediately made the men’s State team and represented Australia in the 1996 and 2000 World Championships. Although he had experience as a playing Assistant Coach with the Senior Men and Assistant Coach for the Senior women, he had not expected to undertake such a prominent coaching job until his retirement which was still some way off.11 With just over a month to the national championships, McKenzie became coach with Steve Touchell as his assistant. Touchell had played in the Senior Men’s team since 1992. His wife was formerly Sandy Pope, a long standing member of WA teams since her debut in the Under 16s in 1985.  The Manager also withdrew and a compromise was finally reached a week before the tournament began. The duties were shared between Ingrid Smith and Lynn Stagg. Unfortunately, some members of the team misbehaved resulting in damage to their accommodation and an additional outlay for the WASA plus a poor public image with other motel guests and the motel management.  Reports by the coach and managers acknowledged that the team had been let down by the disruptions and thus its third placing in the 2001 Gilleys Shield was particularly good. The players most affected were those with least experience in a Senior team and McKenzie had not been able to rest the experienced players as had been planned in matches against lower ranked teams. Captain Michelle Edwards was selected in the Australian squad. The absence of Clews was unlikely to have affected the final standing. Under 19 coach, Lyn Clarkson, indicated that Clews had a very limited variety of pitches and playing in just one championship was sufficient for her.


Nurturing Clews for the future was critical and she had an immediate opportunity to test herself as one of three pitchers for Perth Thunder. The Australia Cup was played over two weekends in February in Sydney. Perth Thunder stayed in Sydney for the duration. The other two pitchers were Chantelle James and Erin Crowley, the Canadian import with Bunbury City Blues. Perth Thunder was third after the qualifying rounds but was defeated in the finals to finish fifth. Fiona Irvine created one of the highlights of the Cup when she hit a grand slam in Round 3. Perth Thunder also caused some angst for Arncliffe Scots by defeating them 6-5 in the preliminary round. Arncliffe Scots regrouped and went on to win overall.


In retrospect it can be seen that WA softball was traumatized. As well as the controversy about the women’s teams WA softball was immersed in the Operational Review. (See Chapter 2) One of its outcomes was that for the first time since the advent of government funding in the 1970s, WA teams had to cover all of their expenses. Government funding could only be used to subsidise team officials. The positive to come out of all of this was that despite the turmoil WA did manage to field teams in all national championships and those teams performed creditably. Peter Koha was appointed Senior Women’s coach for 2002. He had extensive experience beginning as Assistant Coach of the Under 16 Boys in 1991 followed by a similar role with Under 19 Men’s and then Senior Men’s Coach from 1997 to 2000. The Assistant Coach was Bill Downing, a former WA and Australian player. The Gilleys Shield national championship was held at the Hawker International Softball Centre in Canberra. WA finished fourth. The National Fastpitch League was played over an extended weekend from 29 March to 1 April at Blacktown Olympic Centre. Heavy rain delayed the actual start until 30 March. Two pools of four teams played a qualifying round robin followed by an elimination round then finals. The inclusion of the Under 19 national teams from Australia and New Zealand added an international dimension. Perth Thunder lead Pool A at the completion of the round robin and went forward into the elimination round in which it held the lead ahead of Queensland Academy of Sport Heatwave, Arncliffe Scots (NSW) and NSW Institute of Sport Blues. However, Perth Thunder did not continue its good form into the finals and finished fourth.


The WASA hosted the South Pacific Classic in April 2002, the first international women’s event in WA for almost three decades. But what promised to be an exciting six-team competition was undermined when Olympic grand finalists USA and Japan withdrew leaving two Australian teams to face off against China and New Zealand. As Bevan Eakins noted in his Extra Time column in The West Australian in June 2001:

The national women’s softball championships held in Perth in January [2001], were a huge hit with local crowds. In fact, the national body was so impressed with the turnout that it was a significant factor in the WA Softball Association winning the right to host next year’s South Pacific Classic.


Another former New Zealand Blacksox champion, Kere Johansen, was appointed coach for the 2002-2003 season. Johansen and his partner were seeking a change of lifestyle and had intended migrating to Brisbane but were advised by Dave McKenzie and WA-Australian player Adam Humble, to come to Perth which they did in early December 2000. Johansen’s curriculum vitae was impressive with almost 300 international matches for the Blacksox including two silver and two gold medals at the Men’s world Championships plus seven years of semi-professional softball in the USA during the New Zealand off-season.12


One of the first tasks for the new coaching team was to work at a special tournament in Perth. To compensate for WA’s lack of exposure to elite softball either through the visit of international teams or the hosting of a round of the National Fastpitch League, the WASA took the initiative of conducting a special tournament in October 2002. Ten Australian representatives were invited to play in a five team competition. Each team had an Australian pitcher. Former WA player Kellie Hardie made the trip west from her base in Queensland. The other four pitchers were Tanya Harding, Zara Mee, Felicity Witt and Kelly Gentle. Other Australian players were Melissa McGee, Amy Borbiro, Leena Merzliakoz, Kym Tolleanare and Kirsty Jennings. As newly installed coach Johansen noted ‘instead of 15 players, which make up the State team, we [had] 55 players getting exposure to quality competition’.13


The National Fastpitch League and the teams were revamped for the 2002-03 season. The WA team became the Western Arrows. During the summer of 2002-03 there were four events. In December WAIS represented WA in the NSW Institute of Sport Cup and finished fourth. The Senior Women played for the Gilleys Shield in Hobart with WA taking another fourth in the double round robin competition. This was sufficient to qualify for the ASF Challenge was held at Waverley at the end of February. Six State/Territory associations entered teams and the ASF supported two Under 19 teams – Green and Gold. Four members of the WA team could not participate so were replaced by two pickups – Tracey Mosley (SA) and Melanie Dunne (Qld). WA were third. The final round at the Blacktown Olympic Stadium saw Western Arrows take fifth place in the final standings. The Gilleys Shield was played in Adelaide in 2005. WA moved up to third place. The six State/Association teams became representatives of the State/Territory institutes/academies of sport. The Softball Australia Grand Prix Series was played over three rounds. At the first in December in Brisbane Western Arrows were fourth, after the second round at Waverley they were third but dropped to fifth in Round 3 at Blacktown Olympic Stadium. Japan and New Zealand participated in this round with Japan winning. Claire Warwick was named the Rookie of Round 3. The Western Arrows overall standing was third. Krystle Rivers was recognized as the ASF Rookie of the Year. The improving competitiveness of WA saw them defeat Queensland for the first time in 20 years.


The 2005-06 season began with the first round of the Softball Australia Grand Prix Series in Brisbane in December. The Western Arrows were placed second. Leah Quackenbush was the Best Batter of the round. The National championships were played in January at the Altona complex in western Melbourne. The Western Arrows could only manage fifth as they did in the second round in Melbourne. This round included a team from Japan and the Australian Under 19 team. The Western Arrows improved for the final round at Blacktown to move up to fourth resulting in an overall third placing for the season. For the 2006-07 season the competition was badged as the Softball Australia National Women’s League championships. Four rounds were played. The renamed WA team, the WAIS Coastals, improved in the first two rounds with a second placing in Brisbane in November and third placing in Melbourne in December. Round 3 was played as a double round robin at Blacktown in January and was designated at the Gilleys Shield event. WAIS Coastals finished fourth. The final round was also played in Sydney with WAIS Coastal having an overall fifth placing.


For the 2007-08 season all national competition was under the umbrella of the National Women’s League. The six State/Territory teams were managed by their associations in partnership with their local academy/institute of sport. The WA team was renamed the Western Flames. Four rounds were played with Brisbane hosting the November round, Victoria the December round and the third and fourth rounds being played at the Blacktown Olympic Stadium. The first, second and fourth rounds were played over three-day weekends. The third round in January was designated as the Gilleys Shield and consisted of a double round robin plus finals and was played over seven days. To create an even more exciting tournament the Senior Women’s and Senior Men’s titles were played concurrently at Blacktown Stadium, Sydney. A proposal to have the female and male national championships of each age division held simultaneously had been considered by the ASF in 1991. With its Olympic venue, NSW re-ignited the debate and presented a compelling case. One reason favouring of the proposal was the belief that it would reduce the frequency – and hence the workload - with which State/Territory associations had to host championships. However, even with international standard venues, State/Territory associations did not consider this to be practical. The Western Flames were disappointed to finish fifth but there was a sense of better results to come with five players touring with the Australian team: Leigh Godfrey, Chelsea Forkin, Verity Long-Droppert, Leah Parry and Jodie Stevenson. They all toured Japan but only Godfrey toured New Zealand while Forkin and Long-Droppert toured Canada and the USA. Godfrey also went to Canada.


The prestige of the Gilleys Shield as the premier trophy for national women’s softball was restored for the 2008-09 season when all four rounds counted towards it. The first three rounds were played in Brisbane, the ACT and Waverley in November, December and January respectively and each was of three days duration. Round 4 was played at the Blacktown Stadium and was extended to five days to include the finals. The Western Flames performed credibly in the first three rounds finishing equal first with NSW after Round 1, equal first with Queensland after Round 2 and ‘stood alone at the top of the ladder after 3 completed rounds’.14 In what has become somewhat routine in Sydney, two full days of play were lost due to heavy rain. After a month’s break since Round 3, WA were keen to play the five matches rostered for those two days to get back in form and renew their confidence. Without them the team became tense and were defeated in the play-off games by Queensland and the ACT to finish third overall. Despite this Johansen was optimistic that the team with an average age of 21 would benefit from the experience and be serious title contenders as they worked together in the future. One very hard working member of the team was Chantelle James who was the Manager/Pitching Coach as well as the Head Coach of the Under 19s. When WA did not participate in the National Fastpitch League in the early 1990s, there was consensus in the Australian softball community that WA should do so to improve, that is, WA needed exposure to more elite competition. By 2009 the competition needed WA, not just as a token team giving credibility to claims of a national league but because WA’s competitiveness was essential to the quality of the league. The breakthrough came in the 2009-10 season when the Western Flames won the Gilleys Shield. In 2010-11 NSW Firestars and WA fought close battles with NSW claiming the Edebone-Weber Shield in Round 3 played at Mirrabooka. WA Flames fought back in Round 4 and claimed the Gilleys Shield for the second consecutive season equaling the feat of the 1952 and 1953 teams. WA’s pitcher Amber Johnson, an American import, won the Best Pitcher Award, pitching 103.7 innings and recording 81 strikeouts.


The successful 2010 and 2011 teams were guided by Kere Johansen, the WAIS Softball Head Coach. Recognised nationally as an astute tactician he had extensive national experience as Assistant Coach of the Under 19 Women and Senior Women (including the 2004 Athens Olympic Games); and, Head Coach of the Australian team at the World University Games in Thailand in 2006. In 2009 he was Assistant Coach of the 2009 World Men’s Championship Team, Aussie Steelers. He was also appointed the softball High Performance Manager of the joint Softball WA, Baseball WA and DSR program, Diamond Sports Academy.

2010 National Champions

Back L->R: Mike Oostryck (physio), Chelsea Forkin, Briana Hassett, Catherine Bishop, Ashleigh Medwin, Verity Long-Droppert

Centre L->R: Kathryn Wylie (statistician), Shane Hughes (assist coach), Rebecca Crosby, Amanda Torrington, Rebecca Jack, Chantelle James (manager/pitching coach), Kere Johansen (coach)

Front L->R: Jemma Freegard, Chermai Clews, Jodie Stevenson (vice capt), Michelle Andrew (capt), Leah Godfrey (vice capt), Leah Parry, Tori Bolland, Emily Sharp)

2011 Gilleys Shield

Back L-R: Jacinta Kilgallon, Jodie Stevenson (vice capt), Tori Bolland, Christina Kreppold, Emily Sharp, Michelle Andrew (capt), Mike Oostryck (physio)

Centre L->R: Shane Hughes (assist coach), Leah Parry, Verity Long-Droppert,Amber Johnson, Ebony Humble, Ashleigh Medwin, Amber Havnar, Chelsea Forkin, Kere Johansen (coach)

Front L->R: Chermai Clews, Kathryn Wylie (statistician), Leah Godfrey (vice capt), Chantelle James (battery coach/manager), Emilee Blowers


Like the Senior Women, the Under 19 Women have been consistent triers at their national champion-ships but success has eluded them. Third place in 1993 was their best result until 1999. Bob McKibbin was head coach from 1983 to 1996.

Shirley Boyd

Long time Under 19 scorer Shirley Boyd traveled with the Australian team to the Pan Pacific tournament in Vancouver, Canada, in 1986 and the Third World Championship in Oklahoma City, USA, in 1987. Natalie Robertson played in the latter championship. Robertson then played in three national championships with the WA Senior women after which she moved to Melbourne and represented Victoria in 1991 and 1992. She also played in the National Club Championships for Waverley Rebels and in 1992 won

the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for the championship. She returned to WA softball as a Senior in 1993. In 1995 Canadian import Tiffany Stanton became the first international player in the WA Under 19 team.

Natalie Robertson

The ASF hosted the Fourth World Under 19 Women’s Championship in Adelaide in 1991. WA did not have a representative in the Australian team. Bob McKibbin was a national selector for it. The breakthrough for the WA Under 19 Women came in 1999 when they finished second. Former Australian, Victorian and WA senior player, Lyn Clarkson was the coach. Clarkson had been the batting coach from 1995 and became Head Coach in 1997. She worked as a physical education teacher. Sheryl Fricker was Assistant Coach. She was formerly Sheryl Malcolm, had come up through the ranks as a player from Under 16 to Senior Women’s. Her daughter, Tracey, was a co-captain of the Under 19 team while younger daughter Rebecca was co-captain of the Under 16s which were coached by a fourth family member, Debbie Malcolm, younger sister of Sheryl. Former Senior women’s statistician, Lorraine Malcolm intended to go to Hobart to be a spectator at the Under 19s to watch her grand-daughter, Tracey, but found herself volunteering to be the Statistician at no cost to the WASA. Martine Farlekas was the standout player for WA earning selection in the 22-member national squad which played in an International Challenge in Canberra. The Under 19s were pitted against the Australian Senior team, two Japanese teams, Taipei and the Netherlands. Farlekas then continued as a member of the 17- strong Australian team for the World Championships in Taipei. Clarkson continued as Head coach until 2003. Chermai Clews continued to develop into a top class pitcher and after the 2001 national championships was selected in the national Under 19 squad preparing for the World Championships in 2003. WA’s reputation as a serious contender in the Under 19 division was confirmed after the 2003 national championships with four players selected in the national team for the World Championships in China in September. They were Clews, Michelle Andrew, Rebecca Horne and Sharon Bell. Clews and Andrew had been in the national junior squad for the past three years. All four players were WAIS scholarship holders. The WA team consolidated its place in the top four including second placings in 2007 and 2008. The 2007 tournament played at Mirrabooka gave WA the home ground advantage. Chelsea Forkin achieved a unique double winning both the MVP and batting awards. She had a unique background having been the sole female in the WA Under 14 baseball team in 2002.15 The fate of the 2007 championships hung in the balance on the last day of play when a bushfire broke out on the northern side of the Reid Highway which runs alongside the softball complex. Fortunately water bombers drenched the fire and the softball continued albeit with reduced visibility.

Robert (Bob) McKIBBIN

Life Member: 1988

I think the fortunate part was that I was able to coach good athletes and good people … the satisfaction of seeing someone you believe in succeed. Succeeding could go from everything from playing one game for the State to being picked in an Australian team depending on the ability of the kid.


Bedford District Youth Club

State Teams

Assistant Coach Under 16 Girls: 1975, 1976

Coach Under 16 Girls: 1977-82

Coach Under 19 Women: 1983-96

Assistant Coach Under 19 Men: 1998


State Selector: 1974-95

Junior Development Committee: 1975-86

Junior Development Officer: 1987-93

Senior Vice President: 1993-95


Talent Identification Clinics: 1984, 1987

National Selector: 1990-96

ASF Academy Coach in WA: 1992, 1993


Level 1 Coach: 1979; Level 2 Coach: 1982

State Umpire: 1978


Australian Softball Federation Service Award: 1994

Australian Sports Medal: 2000

Bedford District Youth Club: Life Member

Other Sports

Baseball: Swan Valley

Swan Valley Football Club: President 4 years

Bob McKibbin went to Bedford District Youth Club in 1972 to help his friend Bill Luckman coach the Reserves. He stayed 24 years! Bob had played baseball for six years with Swans so had some feeling for the sport. After his first softball season Bob suffered a serious injury playing Australian Rules football for Swan Valley in the Sunday Amateur League and ‘footy’ was no longer an option. Bob’s misfortune was Bedford’s gain. He coached the A Reserve team for five seasons during which they won two premierships, were runners-up twice and had a third placing. He then took charge of the Bedford A grade juniors and promptly won the premiership. Bob introduced a more formal organization to the team roping off the benches and requiring the players to sit with the team rather than their parents. For Bob that was a great improvement but even more important was that a number of the juniors rose rapidly through the grades to play Senior A grade within two seasons. Among them were Sue Towie, Cathy Prince, Kylie Smith and Sue Lynch.


Bob’s next move was to coach Bedford A grade Seniors. He and his assistant, Ben Thorley, realized that Bedford’s A grade and A Reserve teams had drifted a very long way apart so they reformed the teams with half of each level. Players who had little social contact with each other bonded to focus on Bedford DYC Softball. It quickly paid dividends as Bedford won three A grade finals in the 1976-77, 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons. Bob also served as President of the softball division of Bedford District Youth Club. Bob had only been at Bedford two years when the WASA hosted the 1974 Under 16 national championship. He volunteered to be a ‘general dog’s body’ and ground commentator. After that ‘there was no going anywhere else’. Bob benefited from spending most of the week behind the microphone and sharing the official tent with two of the doyennes of Australian softball, President Esther Deason and Umpire in Chief, Marj Dwyer. With support from Lorraine Malcolm at Bedford DYC, Bob was successful in applying to be Assistant Coach of the State Under 16 team in 1975 and 1976 and in the latter year assumed many of the duties of head coach including writing the team report for inclusion in the Association’s Annual Report. He then held the position of coach from 1977 to 1982. In his first two years with the Under 16s the team played in the grand final to finish as runners-up. Under Bob’s leadership WA Under 16s were always contenders for the national title usually finishing in the top 3. The 1970s were marred by the illegal pitching controversy. It came to a head for WA Under 16s in 1977 when Bob ordered the team to leave the dugout by jumping the fence without congratulating their opponents, Victoria, whose pitchers had benefited from umpiring decisions. Bob directed two players to shake hands with the Victorians and an apology was later issued. When Umpire-in-Chief Marj Dwyer attempted to berate him it was the members of the team that stood up to her. The WAWSA decided no further action was required when the team returned to Perth. Throughout his six years with the Under 16s, Lorraine Page was the Assistant Coach and she succeeded him as Coach. In 1983 he took over the State Under 19 team. He had intended to continue with the Under 16s but the players who were moving from the Under 16s to Under 19s persuaded him to do so. His Assistant Coach was Reg Page. Reg already had two years in the position and continued for another four years eventually moving to the Senior Men and then Under 19 Men. Glenda Jackson was his Assistant in 1987 then Lorraine Page moved to the Under 19s for three years followed by Laurie Prior from 1991 to 1996. In 1995 ex-Victorian/WA and Australian player Lyn Clarkson joined Bob and Laurie as a second Assistant Coach specializing in batting. In 1996 he lost the position to Lyn Clarkson. Bob would have liked another two year contract to finish off what he had started as WA had rebuilt and had risen from seventh in 1989 to third in 1993. During the 1980s the face of Australian softball changed markedly with Queensland and New South Wales becoming the dominant States followed by Victoria and the ACT as somewhat of a wildcard resulting in WA slipping down the rankings but still ahead of South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.


WA teams were selected at trails held over three consecutive weekends and for Bob – and the other selectors – the final day of trials was the most difficult when tough decisions had to be made to select players to fill positions 14 and 15 on the team list. These were the players who would spend most of their time at national championships on the bench but could be called on at any moment to fulfill a critical role. After a season away from softball Bob returned in 1997 to be Assistant Coach to Reg Page with the Under 19 Men’s team. In contrast to the women’s team, he found the Under 19 men to be rather self-centred and lacking in appreciation of the support and opportunities given to them by the Association. The behaviour of the team was subject of a WASA inquiry resulting in the coaching staff being held responsible. This terminated Bob’s career. By this stage, however, Bob, knew that it was time to finish because he found it difficult to focus solely on the activities on the diamond, for the first time in his career he was aware of what was going on in the stands. Bob’s commitment to elite softball during the 1970s and 1980s was balanced by a broader concern for the development of the sport and giving youngsters and opportunity to discover their talents. He volunteered for a host of coaching clinics in metropolitan and rural WA. His first trip was to Geraldton in 1974. Thereafter he often traveled to the north of the State in the off-season to conduct weekend clinics with participants ranging in age from 10 to 40 plus years. As Junior State Coach he initiated an off-season Talent Development Clinic one evening a week at the former Nedlands then Churchlands Colleges of Advanced Education (now part of ECU). The focus was on skill development. Approximately 40 Under 16 and Under 19 softball players took part with members of the State Senior team acting as coaches and mentors. When the WA Institute of Sport accepted softball into its raft of sports, the WASA clinics dropped back a level to focus on talent identification with a squad of players ranging in age from 13 to 18 years.

This experience put him in good steed to take charge of national clinics on behalf of the ASF when Jimmy Gibson was National Coaching Director in 1983. Bob headed up the camps held after the Under 16 national championships in 1984 and 1987. Players from the Northern Territory, South Australia and WA attended. Lorraine Page was an Assistant Coach in 1984 and Lorraine Malcolm was the Camp mother in 1987. As the ASF prepared for its Olympic debut in 1996 and the Sydney Olympics in 2000, it formed a National Softball Academy in 1993 and appointed a number of leading coaches, including Bob, to oversee the training of players in the national squad following a program designed by Australian Head Coach, Margaret Reynolds. Early in his softball career Bob had an altercation with an umpire, not unusual for coaches but it did stimulate Bob to complete the theoretical and practical requirements and be listed as a State Umpire in 1978. ‘It was an experience to actually be on the other side and be abused by a coach. It was a short term thing and was just another string to my bow so if I’m going to criticize umpires I’d better find out what it’s like to be one’. John Claxton helped Bob to understand the finer points of softball. After Bob returned from his first national championship he was talking over close decisions with ‘Clacka’ who recommended that ‘…every year you go away, just on the back page of your scorebook put US and THEM. Every close one you get put a mark [for US], everyone that goes against you put a mark for THEM.” Over 20 years there was one difference, so, why worry?’


Prior to joining softball, Bob had played baseball for six years with Swans and he was excited when the possibility of men’s softball was mooted. However, his softball playing was limited to the very first social game in 1976 that paved the way for the men’s competition. He did have a stint with the short-lived slow pitch competition before Veterans softball became a major part of the WA fixtures. Bob did not play Veterans softball but did help out at the Australian Masters Games in 1993 as a barman. During the early 1990s Bob served as an Australian selector for national squads and teams for both women and men including the 1991 Under 19 Women’s team for the Fourth World Championship held in Adelaide. ‘I used to go and sit up the back of the stands … nobody would know I was looking at them [because] I know myself if I’m watched I don’t perform as well as I can’. The big challenge for selectors as Bob saw it, was to forget where he came from and put the national interest first. Bob considered himself fortunate to have been involved in WA softball when people like John Claxton and Brian Properjohn were still active coaches. They were among his mentors. One of Bob’s fondest memories – and great learning opportunities – occurred when he shared a few beers with “Clacka” and “Prop”. ‘We used to make a joke about having to have another round of beers so we’d have more bottle tops to put on the table. We used to sit and talk and if we didn’t have bottle tops we’d use matches for game situations’. Another WASA member who guided Bob was Joy Marsland, Manageress of the State Under 16 team. She guided him through the challenges of being a man in a women’s sport and helped him set a personal code of behaviour. 


Once Bob focused softball he accepted Committee work as part and parcel of his commitment to ensure that softball progressed as best it possibly could in WA.  He became a key member of the Junior Committee. The weeklong live-in camps were special. Joy Marsland was the convenor and to Bob it was “Joy’s Camp”.  When the WASA restructured in 1987, he became the Junior Development Officer. In this position he helped set the State Schoolgirls’ softball competition which was under the auspices of the WA Government State Schools Sports Association.  He was a member of the committee that oversaw the establishment of the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka and was among the volunteers who spent many Thursday evenings preparing the diamonds and building. ‘My best one is I went downstairs one night and undercoated 10 doors. Laurie Prior came down and said, “I thought you’d be finished by now.” I said, “I just did all the undercoats.” He said, “You silly old bastard, they were already primed. You didn’t have to do undercoats.” That’s how much of a tradesman I am! ‘ His handyman skills were limited to marking diamonds. He tried to organize fathers of Bedford players to mark diamonds as a means of fundraising for the club. When enthusiasm waned Bob and John Claxton took it on as a means to raising funds to cover their levies as State coaches. Bob’s Datsun 1000 station wagon, the Little Dat, came in very handy for transporting the back nets to the 24 diamonds marked on Yokine Reserve. Bob drove while John walked alongside to steady the nets. During his final years with the WASA he served as its Senior Vice President from 1993 to 1995. When it came time for him to retire from softball and focus on his young family Bob’s parting words were ‘I’ve got to give this up because my life’s changed. You’ve got something here that I love very dearly, please look after it’.


While softball occupied an enormous amount of Bob’s time and energy he worked full time as an Environmental Health Officer initially for the Shire of Swan and for the City of Perth since 1980. He was able to adjust his annual leave to accommodate his softball duties. Unfortunately Bob’s first marriage failed but he remains on good terms with his former wife, Marg, and two children, Shona and Drew. In 1990 he married Shirley Harris who he first met as a junior player for Bedford. In 1994 Bob and Shirley became the proud parents of twins, a girl Megan and a boy, Jai. He also spent 10 years as am member of the Garrick Theatre Company in Guildford and participated in numerous productions including a musical in which he ‘talked in time with the piano!’ Bob was humbled to receive his Life Membership in the same year as Reg Page. He treasures Life Membership badge because it has the original WAWSA title on it, a strong reminder to Bob that he started his softball career when it was specifically a women’s sport.


In 2008 the team traveled to Tasmania. Leigh Godfrey had an outstanding year and was named as the ASF’s Junior Female Athlete of the Year. Inspired by the Senior team’s name, Western Flames, the Under 19 team adopted the name of Sparks for 2009. Manageress Alana Campbell in her report noted how the team had: a motto called

“sparksmanship” [as] a word that covers Courage, the Dare to Dream, Seize the Moment, and Whatever it takes. [This] amalgamation of thoughts and feelings gathered meaning and momentum over the course of training and pretournament games. During the Altona tournament, the Sparksmanship motto proved to be a binding tool used every morning and evening to motivate and focus the team.

After a long career as a player from Under 16 to Senior ranks, Chantelle James took on the challenge of coaching the Under 19 team. Although not far removed from her own playing days James wrote in her report ‘it does seem that times are changing with this generation and priorities are different for kids today than what they were in the past’. James noted that it was rare to have a full complement of players at training on a regular basis and so it took time to develop the desired team culture. The Assistant Coach was Brendan Kenny and the Statistician was Jenny Masimini. After the qualifying rounds WA was sitting in third position but lost the semi-final to finish fourth overall. WA’s impact on the tournament amazed Manageress Alana Campbell who wrote that ‘I have personally never seen other states take so much interest and notice in the Western Australian basic team warm-up drills’. Ebony Humble along with Tori Bolland and Jemma Freegard from the Under 16s were members of the Australian team which played in the International Friendship Series in Sydney.


The 1984 team endured a series of traumatic events in the run up to the grand final. They arrived in Darwin only a day before playing their first match. Their accommodation was appalling and nothing like what they had arranged. Other States had arrived sooner and claimed the slightly better rooms although Victoria walked out and NSW had re-booked a month earlier. There was no air conditioning and shower facilities had to be shared. Local Darwin itinerants roamed the motel and broke into the rooms. After giving statements to the police team members took to sleeping with their softball bats for security. The food was also substandard. The championship was held as usual in January which is the wet season in northern Australia. During the first match it rained non-stop. WA lost its first two games to NSW and South Australia then regrouped to win three in a row before losing to Victoria then fortunately finishing the qualifying round with a victory over the ACT to be in third place behind Victoria and NSW. A win over Queensland in the semifinal saw WA face off against NSW in the preliminary final on Saturday. Coach Lorraine Page’s report gives some sense of the drama:

This is one game I don’t think the players, officials or supporters will forget for a long time. The match commenced at 3 p.m with rain building up. At the end of the third innings both teams had scored 1 run each then it started to rain, each side had four batters face the pitching, but no one scored. The rain was getting heavier and heavier. We batted in the top of the fifth and had 3 up and 3 down. NSW batted and had a runner on 2nd and 3rd base, by this time you could hardly see and the ground was under water. The umpires decided to stop the game at 3.30 and we were told that a decision would be made at 4 p.m. At 4.20 they decided to play again even though the ground was completely flooded. With the help of the spectators they tried to remove as much water from the ground as possible. The game recommenced at 5 o’clock under shocking and dangerous conditions. We went back to the field with NSW having runners on we held them without scoring. In the sixth we scored a run and then the rain started again, just as heavy as before. NSW replied with a run in the bottom of the sixth and with the game tied at 2 all it was abandoned and would continue at 10 a.m Sunday morning. We had already been playing for 2 ½ hours.


We commenced the 7th innings with our first batter being hit by a pitched ball, the next out for batting out of the box, then a fly ball hit to centre field who after taking the catch, made an error and allowed our runner to reach third, the next runner hit safely and we scored. NSW had their first two batters out, then a safe hit to leftfield and the fourth batter was put out with no score. End of game with us winning 3-2, which only took 7 minutes to complete.

Shortly after this, WA faced Victoria in the grand final but could not get the batting going and lost 3-0. A win would have been a fitting farewell for Joy Marsland who retired after 12 years as Under 16 Manageress but it was not to be. For first time officials - coach Lorraine Page, her assistant Cheryl Prince and scorer Debbie Boyd - it was a remarkable achievement. Lorraine, together with Under 19 coach Bob McKibbin, had an extended stay in Darwin to conduct a National Talent Identification training camp for the ASF. Five WA players participated: Rowena Randall, Kerry Langley, Annette Gell, Larraine Smith and Joanne Best. Lorraine Page coached the Under 16s through until 1986 then spent several seasons as Assistant Coach of the Under 19s before returning to coach the Under 16s from 1991 to 1998. Unfortunately, the Under 16s were unable to repeat the 1984 performance and since then have finished outside the top four. A common theme in the coaches’ reports has been the lack of Senior A grade experience of the junior players. From the 1970s to 2000 the WASA usually had four to six grades for juniors including an A grade. This, however, was not considered by coaches to expose the players to the pressures faced at national championships. As Kevin Osborne, coach from 2000 to 2005, remarked, ‘Every game played at national level is like a grand final’. The juniors needed to be playing in the higher levels of the senior grades. Membership of the Under 16 team was not limited to those playing in the WASA controlled competition at Yokine Reserve but drew on players from all affiliates be they metropolitan or rural. The Under 16 Girls have not improved their national standing comparable to the other women’s teams. In 2009 Tori Bolland won the Batting Award with an average of .519 at the national championships. She along with Jemma Freegard played in the Australian team in the International Friendship Series in Sydney. Freegard blotted her copybook with WA when she and Caitlin Kenny were dismissed from the team after breaking the team rules. They were captain and vice captain respectively. 
Women’s teams lists from 1984 to 2011 can be found in Appendix 1.



Life Member: 2010

… it’s just become part of life and you just do it. As I say if you’re getting fulfillment out of it and enjoyment then you’ll do it.


Morley Eagles

Morley Magic

Bedford District Youth Club

Bedford Men’s

Dale Demons


Under 16 Girls’ Coach: 2000-04


Australian Sports Medal: 2000

Australian Softball Federation Service Award: 2003

Life Member Morley Eagles

Life Member Bedford

Little did the Osborne family realize when the children started playing tee ball, it would be dad, Kevin – Os/Ossie - who would become an avid player, coach and volunteer for the WASA. The Osborne children – Shane, Kirsty, Michelle and Richie – began playing tee ball with Morley Eagles Baseball Club in the late 1980s. Kevin undertook all the usual parent duties of ‘a bit of umpiring … a bit of coaching… a little bit of whatever’. His wife, Melanie, focused on scoring. The Osborne boys progressed to junior baseball while the girls went to junior softball. However, after the boys tried junior softball in the Winter Competition they found they enjoyed it much more than baseball. Shane was a member of the inaugural WA Under 16 Boys’ team in 1993. After a second year in the Under 16s he joined the Under 19s for the next three seasons. Michelle played with the WA Under 16 Girls’ team in 1997 followed by three years in the Under 19s and two years with the Senior Women’s team including Perth Thunder. Kirsty and Richie continued to play club softball just missing State selection. Kevin’s own introduction to State teams came in 1997 when he was Manager of the Under 19 Men’s team. Having been a helper at training who would ‘fetch the balls’ he was recruited through the joint persuasive efforts of Coach Reg Page and Statistician Ev Harvey. In 2000 he was asked to coach the Under 16 Girls’ team, a position he filled for five seasons. It seemed like a natural progression for someone who had been coaching sub-juniors and juniors for over a decade and worked with Morley Magic in the State Softball League. He attended a considerable number of coaching clinics but never completed the final requirements of accreditation. The first year was a major highlight for him with a ‘pretty good bunch of young girls [who] finished fourth … it was a buzz … it’s the adrenaline … Every game played at national level is like a grand final. That’s the big buzz’. The buzz has continued as several of the Under 16s have progressed through the ranks to become members of Australian teams. A change of office bearers at Morley Eagles saw him transfer to Bedford where he has coached teams in the Summer Competition since 2007.


Kevin estimated he played between 150 to 200 games with Morley Eagles in the Winter Competition before transferring to Bedford in 2007. Not content just to play in winter Kevin played in summer in the Vets Competition, initially with Morley Eagles and then Bedford. Having witnessed the Australian Masters Games when they were held in Perth in 1993, Kevin has participated in most since then initially with Morley Magic and then with Dale Demons. In 2005 he was a member of the joint WA-Queensland team that won a gold medal in the inaugural Over 55s division.  With both clubs Kevin has become fully involved as a committee member and delegate – to WASA Management Committee with Eagles and the Summer Competition with Bedford. As well, he has marked diamonds for the Summer Competition, or in the 2010-2011 season, shared his expertise with the imported American players who were allocated the task by their host club Carine Cats.


When the call goes out for volunteers to help when the WASA hosts a national championship, Kevin takes some of his annual leave to work as a volunteer grounds man. It is ‘like the Red Cross, you just help those in need’. Depending on the condition of the diamonds he and whoever else is available might spend a week preparing the grounds prior to the championships. During the second week he can spend up to 14 hours per day ensuring that the surfaces are fit for each game When the ball is hit over the home run fence, Kevin (along with Theo….) are the ones who venture into the bush surrounding Mirrabooka because ‘you don’t want the kids getting bitten by snakes’. When needed he has filled in as gateman. Kevin’s contribution to softball has been recognized with Life Memberships of Morley Eagles and Bedford clubs, an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and an Australian Softball Federation Service Award in 2003. He became a Life Member of the WASA in 2010. Throughout his entire softball career Kevin has worked with the RAC WA beginning as a patrolman and progressing to Branch management.



Four national titles and regular grand final appearances during its first decade ensured that WA was a powerhouse in Australian softball. The success of the WA women’s teams in the 1950s set a benchmark that later teams were expected to emulate. However, WA appeared to run out of steam during the 1960s and languished in the lower ranks apart from occasional surges to third place. A steady climb back to top rankings began in the early 2000s capped off by victories by the Senior Women in 2010 and 2011. WA is yet to claim either the Under 16 Girls’ or Under 19 Women’s national championship. Placings of WA teams are presented in Appendix 2 with winning States/Territories of national championships in Appendix 3.


Pinpointing the exact reasons for WA women’s decline and slow recovery has been debated at length in the softball community. No single reason can be isolated but rather WA’s performance needs to be put into a broader context in which WA’s performance at national championships is compared to the other States/Territories. In the halcyon days of the 1950s WA developed a particularly strong rivalry with Victoria against whom they were pitted for most grand finals. Victoria was an enigma in Australian softball because it was a winter sport in that State until the 1970s. The Victorian team was selected at the end of their club season in September and trained through until March without the benefit of regular club matches. Perhaps, this created a special hunger. The WA teams was selected in November/December in the midst of the club competition. Victoria also had the advantage of having more players in the Australian team and many of these played together in their clubs. This was highlighted in the mid-1960s when most of the Rebels players were Victorian and Australian players. Change occurred when strong competitions – Affiliated Associations - emerged in the new outer suburbs in the late 1950s and ‘60s. Waverley Softball Association in particular challenged to established regime based at Fawkner Park in central Melbourne. Softball was a summer sport at Waverley. Over time, more of the Victorian State team were drawn from Waverley. By 1971 Waverley had an international standard diamond including lighting and was able to host major international events such as the South Pacific Classic. It also seemed that Victorian players participated in the sport for much longer than WA players. A detailed analysis has not been undertaken but a frequently repeated claim for WA declining fortunes was that ‘our girls get married and leave the sport’ whereas Victoria seemed to have the same team year after year.


Victoria continued to be the power State into the 1980s but its run of victories was interrupted by NSW and Queensland. NSW broke through for its first national title in 1969 and followed up with another in 1973. Queensland had victories in 1963, 1968 and 1975. In a unique period between 1975 and 1980 the ACT under the leadership of Ken Duff took two Under 16 and two Under 19 titles followed by three Senior titles. In 1981 in ‘The Game that Nobody Won’ Victoria and NSW fought out 21 innings in the grand final before a tied game was called because of poor light, the only time the Gilleys Shield has been shared.16 Victoria had two more victories in 1982 and 1985 and has had occasional grand final appearances but has not been able to reassert its dominance. The decline of Victoria is probably due to a different set of factors from those affecting WA (and is worthy of a study in its own right).


Queensland and NSW have dominated since the mid-1980s with 16 and 15 (plus 1 tie) Senior titles respectively up to 2009. As well, these two States have dominated the Under 16 and Under 19 champion-ships with Victoria taking an occasional title in each division. WA’s Under 16 team played in five grand finals but not won a national title while the Under 19 team had second placings in 2007 and 2008. WA has fared far better than South Australia which has just one Senior title (1956) and one Under 19 title (1984). Tasmania and the Northern Territory have not won any titles. They have struggled to field teams and no longer compete in Senior Women’s championships. The ACT has also experienced problems fielding teams for all national championships but has maintained a presence in the various guises of the National Fastpitch League.


One explanation for the rise of NSW and Queensland may be found in the national registration figures with both States having the most registered players. WA has usually ranked third behind these two. Exact figures have not been collected throughout the history of the ASF. Until 1984 registration was by teams and for women only when the top four States were NSW (1,356), Queensland (951), Victoria (900) and WA (714). From 1986 onwards player registrations have usually been reported in the ASF Yearbooks on the basis of the number of individuals and included males and females playing T-Ball, Junior (Under 16), Senior and Slowpitch/Masters. As well the ASF reports on registered coaches, umpires and other. An analysis of the number of female players shows that while the total number of players has fallen by over 50 percent from 1988 (41,460) to 2007 (19,069) the rankings of the State/Territory associations have remained constant with NSW being the dominant State followed by Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, the ACT, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Despite the substantial decline, each State/Territory has maintained a relatively constant percentage of the national total. Approximately one-third of all female softball players in Australia are registered in NSW with between 30 percent in 1988 up to a high of 37.6 percent in 1999 and a decline to 30 percent in 2007. Queensland has consistently registered 16 to 17 percent until 2006 when it increased to 20 percent followed by 21.7 percent in 2007. WA has waived around 12 to 14 percent as has Victoria. South Australia has been marginally behind them at 9 to 11 percent. ACT suffered a major decline in the late 1980s to stabilize at approximately 8 percent since 2000 while Tasmania has struggled with 3 to 4 percent and the Northern Territory crept over 2 percent in 2007. On a national perspective, Australia has maintained its international competitiveness despite having fewer registered players.


Another possible explanation for WA’s predicament may lie in the lack of players and officials who have progressed to the ultimate level of Australian representative. Selection in an Australian team gives recognition to the talents of the players and officials and is indirect recognition of the strength of the State association and its programs. There is also a return to the State (and club) in that representative players and officials are able to share the knowledge and experience developed at a higher level with their team mates at all levels. With so few national representatives, WA did not receive either recognition or flow-back benefits. The inclusion of five WA players and the State coach in the national team in recent years has coincided with WA’s success.


The dominant State teams have had significant numbers of representatives in national teams except WA during the 1950s and ‘60s. The AWSC named an Australian team at the completion of each national championship until 1955 and thereafter whenever there was a special event such as Test matches and world championships. When WA won its second successive title in 1953 only three players were considered worthy of national honours – Pat Lynch, Doreen Hawkins and Judy Smalpage but there was no tour. Dot Jenkins and Fay Whittaker were named in The Rest. Flo Ireland, Jean Douglas and Ruth Kern played for Australia against South Africa in Melbourne in 1960. Ireland was the Vice Captain. She was the only WA representative in the 1962 team which toured New Zealand while Nina Menner was WA’s sole representative in the Australian team which won the First World Championship in Melbourne in 1965. She maintained her place until the 1972 tour of New Zealand. Gail Hall joined Menner in the Australian team for the Second World Championship in 1970. A decade later Sue Brajkovich gained selection in the Australian team while her sister, Vicki Baker, was in the Australian Touring team when both teams toured New Zealand. The same year Brajkovich played in the Australian team at the Fifth World Championships in Taiwan. In 1983 she was joined by Glenys Bull and Joanne Donnan for the Hong Kong Invitation Tournament. Donnan also played in the 1984 Under 25 team which toured the USA.


Natalie Robertson played in the Under 19 team at the Third World Junior Championship in the USA in 1987. Cheryl Watters made the Australian Green team and Natalie Robertson the Australian Gold team for the 1989 South Pacific Classic in New Zealand. Eight years later Nicole Mizen and Sarah Lockett were in an Australian squad of 30 players which was subsequently divided across two teams for the South Pacific Classic in New Zealand in 1998. Neither was selected in the Australian team for the World Championships in Japan in the same year. In 2003 WA had its highest national representation when Chermai Clews, Michelle Andrew, Rebecca Horne and Sharon Bell played in the Under 19 World Championship in China. This was surpassed in the 2008-09 season when five players – Verity Long-Droppert, Chelsea Forkin, Leah Parry, Jodie Stevenson and Leigh Godfrey – were included in teams that toured New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the USA with three promising youngsters – Jemma Freegard, Ebony Humble and Tori Bolland – playing in the International Friendship Series in Sydney.


WA’s lack of national representatives has not gone unchallenged by WA officials. A number of times WA coaches have queried the selection of players from other States over those from WA. Such was their frustration that in 1972 the WASA moved a motion at the ASF Annual meeting to have set criteria for the number of innings and matches a player must play at the national championships o be eligible for the national team. In 1985 the ASF began honouring individuals players. Medals named in after former outstanding players were awarded to the Most Valuable Player (Midge Nelson Medal), Pitching (Lorraine Woolley Medal) and Batting (Sybil Turner Medal). Vicki Grant (nee Baker) was the inaugural recipient of the Sybil Turner Medal in 1988. It was not sufficient, however, to earn her a recall to the Australian team. Few other WA women have won individual awards at Senior level until 2004-05 when Krystle Rivers was named Rookie of the Year. Leigh Godfrey claimed the Batting Award in 2009. WA’s victories in 2010 and 2011 were helped enormously by Brianna Hassett and Amber Johnson respectively who won the Pitching Awards.


While the WASA focused on the team, some individuals attempted their own remedies. One solution was to ‘move over east’. Some players decided that living in Perth and playing softball for WA was detrimental to the chances of being selected in a national team and moved east usually to Victoria. Midge Nelson played in four WA teams in the late 1950s before she moved to Melbourne where she played club softball for Posties and then represented Victoria and Australia from 1960 to 1978 including captain at the Third (1974) and Fourth (1978) World Championships. After the 1987 Third World Junior Championship Natalie Robertson relocated to Victoria hoping to continue her development and gain selection in the Australian Senior team. Unfortunately this did not happen and she returned to play for WA from 1991 to 1994. Kelly Hardie played for WA in the Under 16, Under 19 and Senior teams from 1985 to 1993 then moved to Queensland to pursue her dream of representing Australia which she did from 1995 to 2008. Among her achievements were two Olympic bronze medals (2000 and 2008) and an Olympic silver medal in 2004. In 1997 Melissa Robertson and Nicole Mizen played for the Melbourne Majestics in the National Fast Pitch League with the aim of catching the eye of the national selectors and gaining more elite experience.17 Michelle Edwards moved to Queensland but did not emulate Hardie’s success.


It has not been a totally one-way venture. A few eastern States players have moved to WA with the intent of kick-starting their softball careers. Lyn Clarkson, a Victorian, represented Australia at the First World Youth Series in Canada in 1981 followed by Fifth World Senior Women’s Championships in Taiwan in 1982 and teams in 1983 and 1984. As a qualified physical education teacher she gained a teaching position in WA which provided a platform for her to represent WA in the hope of returning to the national team. Injuries limited her opportunities but she chose to remain in WA and she became the Under 19 Women’s coach from to 1997 to 2001 during which time the team worked its way into the top three. Her younger sister, Jenny, followed a similar path but returned to Victoria. Judy Young, wife of Perth Heat baseball coach, moved from Queensland to Perth and played for WA in 1992. While some WA players have been prepared to move east to further their softball careers, few have been prepared to move overseas as have a number of eastern State softball players. There are two avenues for Australian players to pursue abroad: a scholarship to an American university; or, a contract with a semi-professional team in Japan or Europe. Between 1987 and 1995 12 young players spent time on scholarships at American universities. Among them were NSW pitching duo Melanie Roche and Brooke Wilkins and Queenslanders Kellie McKellar, Michelle Moore and Tanya Harding. So long as such players remain registered with Australian clubs they were eligible for Australian teams. In 2002 the ASF established links with Aussies 4 College, a company that guided Australian players through the complexities of the US college system while maintaining contact with Australian teams and coaches.18


In 1996 WA’s Kendall Leggett gained a scholarship to the Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, which played in Division 1 of the NCAA softball competitions.19 WA’s Gail Clarke was sponsored by the ASF to an intensive pitching school in the USA in 1986. However, the ASF did not follow through on their investment in Clark by selecting her in the Australian Under 19 squad. Another avenue for Australian players to pursue their passion for a full-time career in softball is to play in the domestic leagues of other countries. Following their bronze medal performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics catcher and Australian captain Joyce Lester and pitcher Tanya Harding were recruited to play for Miki House, a Japanese company. Unlike their Japanese team mates Lester and Harding did not work in the factory in the mornings but put their efforts into developing the Japanese pitchers and catchers. More recently, European countries have also been attractive to Australian players -including Kelly Hardie - in the ‘off-season’ (winter). To be sought by foreign teams the Australian players must gain exposure at the highest level, that is, in successful State and national teams. For WA (and Tasmania and the NT) it is a catch-22 situation because their players do not come to the attention of overseas scouts so do not get invited to play elsewhere.  The advantage for such players is that they are playing softball full-time and are continually interacting with elite players and earning a living doing what they love. Back in Australia they are able to share their skills and knowledge. The downside, however, is that they are more likely to be injured.


The movement of players has not been entirely one-way. Some foreign players, especially Canadians, have seen Australia as a place to further their softball by playing here during summer to escape winter and get continuous match practice. Some have been deliberately recruited by clubs while others have offered specific services such as pitching clinics. The State Softball League took the initiative for the 1994-95 season by allowing each team to have two imports. Bunbury City Blues coach Bruce Freeman made initial contact with officials in Canada and received a list of 28 players interested in visiting WA. Bunbury took pitcher Marie Green and catcher Michelle Gross while another pitcher, Kimberly Turner, went to Kalamunda Knights and Tiffiany Stanton joined Southdale Spectres. The clubs found accommodation for their imports but did not pay them. 20 The following year Peel Pirates had two Canadian imports – pitcher Tammy Nelson and Jimi Scherer – while Bunbury City Blues did likewise. In 1995 Stirling Centrals were in need of a pitcher so coach Dave McKenzie recruited his sister Pip from New Zealand along with Angela Smith. Both had been members of the New Zealand women’s squad. Smith was also selected in the 1996 Senior State team. Denise Carriere, a Canadian national squad member, joined Bunbury City Blues for the 1995-96 season and finally achieved one of her softball goals – to hit her first over-the-fence home run.21 In 1998 Canadian Karla Ward came to Australia to conduct pitching clinics and study Australian conditions as part of her preparation for representing Canada at the Sydney Olympics. The pitching clinics were sponsored by the Ministry of Sport and Recreation through the Alcoa Coach-in-Residence scheme and she played for Wanneroo Twins in the State League.22


WA Flames’ victories in 2010 and 2011 were in part due to the performance of American imports Brianna Hassett and Amber Johnson. In an attempt to help the State/Territories finishing in the bottom places at the national champion-ships, the ASF permitted those States/Territories to ‘pick-up’ a player from another State/Territory who had been unsuccessful in gaining a place in her own State team. The WASA resisted using pick-up players preferring to give Western Australian opportunities and on several occasions Under 19 players also played in Senior teams. In 1989 Jill Winning, Stephanie Stonier and Lisa McFarlane played in the Senior tournament in Melbourne then flew directly to Canberra for the Under 19s. WA players have, however, occasionally been sought by other States when they have failed to make the WA team. Alison Brooks missed selection in the WA team in 1992 and was picked up by Tasmania. Thus with few players in Australian teams and few international visitors WA players and officials have had fewer opportunities to be inspired by truly elite softball.


Even fewer officials have represented WA women in national teams. Shirley Schneider was Assistant Coach of the Australian Touring team for the 1982 tour of New Zealand. Lorraine Malcolm was appointed Scorer for the Australian team in 1984 but withdrew. Shirley Boyd scored for the Under 19 team at the Third World Junior Championships in 1987. Shirley Schneider chose a different direction and became an Australian selector with two extensive terms, the first from 1978 to 1983 and the second from 1993 to 2005. The latter included the selection of three Australian Olympic teams. It also included regular visits to team training camps at the AIS and tournaments in the Netherlands, USA, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. Bob McKibbin, longtime Under 19 Coach, served as an Australian selector for Under 19 teams including the one that competed in the World Championship in Adelaide in 1991. Kere Johansen has had the longest and most successful contract with Australian women’s teams serving as Assistant Coach during the 2004 and 2008 Olympic campaigns.


Nor has WA had key positions in ASF administration until recently. As per the AWSC Constitution WA sent the requisite delegates to AWSC meetings held simultaneously with the national championships. It can be argued that it is not necessary to have national administrators to being a leading softball State/Territory but the presence of such leaders creates a mindset that intensifies the focus on softball. This was very apparent until the mid-1980s when the key personnel were Victorians located in Melbourne. Esther Deason, Merle Short and Marj Dwyer were national president, secretary and Umpire-in-Chief respectively. They were very visible as club coaches in Melbourne. The counter argument is that South Australia was not a regular contender for national honours when Rosemary Adey was Australian president. By the time she took the helm changes from voluntary office bearers to professional staff eliminated any State-centric focus. The Honorary Secretary’s position was deleted in 1984 and Honorary Treasurer in 1986 when the Board of Management came into being. In the mid-1980s WA was not performing well on the diamond and this may well have contributed to the lack of success for WA nominees for national office. WA’s participation in national competitions began with outstanding successes in the 1950s followed by a slide into a period in the 1960s referred to as the doldrums and an unfortunately long recovery during which time frustration with a lack of success turned to personal blame. Some detractors have been willing to step forward and take a leading role but wisely stepped aside when they could not bring about the desired changes. Persistence from all parties has paid off. In the last decade WA has rebounded to be a top performing State in open competitions. Women’s softball in Australia would be poorer without WA.

[i]Wake, Lisa. (Monday 11 February, 1991). WA softball in despair. The West Australian, p. 86.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Friday 22 January 1993). Call for WA softball coach to be sacked. The West Australian, p. 96; Newcomen,

Rowena (Saturday 23 January 1993).Schneider talks called. The West Australian, p. 60; Newcomen, Rowena (Saturday 30 January, 1993). Player plans to stand out. The West Australian, p. 87; Newcomen, Rowena (Monday 1 February, 1993). Row goes to board, The West Australian, p. 69; Softball coach axed after player revolt. (Saturday 6 February, 1993). The West Australian, p. 91.

[i]The author as Team Manager and Fitness Adviser was called before the inquiry.

[i]Johnston, David. (Tuesday 2 March 1993). Chance to start afresh. Fan Mail. The West Australian, p. 93.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Wednesday 26 May 1993). New coach vows to play hard ball. The West Australian, p. 117.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Monday 24 October 1994). Bower not happy as softballers go missing. The West Australian, p 83.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Monday 11 December 1995). Freedom works for women. The West Australian, p. 75.

[i]Hardie a softball hero. (Tuesday 15 July 1997). The West Australian, p. 50.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Tuesday, 3 February 1998). Mizen, Lockett end drought. The West Australian, p. 54.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Tuesday 31 March, 1998). Thunder scores well in short season. The West Australian, p. 64.

[i]Marsh, David. (Thursday 21 December, 2000). Fresh challenge for softball veteran. The West Australian, p. 59.

[i]Marsh, David. (Tuesday 12 December, 2000). Softball star in WA shift. The West Australian, p. 58.

[i]Marsh, David. (Wednesday 30 October, 2002). Softball stars for Perth. The West Australian, p. 118.

[i]Johansen, Kere (2008-09). Western Flames 08-09 Coaches (sic) Report. Softball Australia 2008-2009 Annual Report, p. 22.

[i]Bennett, Alison. (Tuesday 19 November 2002). Selection breaks new ground. Junior Sport. The West Australian, p. 53.

[i]See Embrey, L. (1995). Batter Up! The history of softball in Australia. Bayswater, VIC: Australian Softball Federation, p. 105.

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

[i]Gray, Chet (2001/2002). Coaching programs report. Softball Australia 2001/2002 Year book. p. 14.

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Saturday 21 October 1995). Persistence gets the nod from Leggett. The West Australian, p. 101.

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

[i]Newcomen, Rowena. (Monday 27 November 1995). Long way for homer. The West Australian, p. 80.

[i]Marsh, David. (Wednesday 21 October, 1998). Canadian pitches for WA. The West Australian, p. 154.