(Via The West Australian)
Together, this bunch of tight and talented netball mates dominated their sport nationally as much as any team in WA’s rich history.
And tonight, their invincible era from 1969 to 1972 will be recognised as they become the first female group of athletes to be inducted into the WA Hall of Champions for their four consecutive and undefeated national netball titles.
“It’s wonderful,” captain Yvonne Rate said this week through tears of pride in her teams of yesteryear. “Being part of that era was very special. For our sport to be recognised and when we think about the fact that it’s nearly 50 years ago, it’s quite remarkable to have the opportunity to be able to come together and be recognised as a team and collective.”
Three members of the teams — Elsma Merillo, Annette Simper and Gaye Teede — have already been inducted into the Hall of Champions as individuals for their netball deeds.
Only three players — Ricky Coates, Gail Wright and the late Glenys Gill — were in all four national title victories, which were won on the road in Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Sydney.
Cheryl Stevenson also joined Merillo, Simper, Teede and Coates as WA players in the Australian team that won the world championship in Jamaica in 1971.
Remarkably, the 1969 title came when the sport was still known as women’s basketball before it was officially changed to netball the following year. Another team member, Yvonne Hale, also represented Australia in women’s basketball as it is now more readily known.
Merillo said West Coast Fever’s success this season had given the sport a timely boost ahead of tonight’s induction. She recalled tense national battles, particularly against Victoria and South Australia, as WA carved out its winning aura.
“When we won for the first time, it was an outstanding win for us and a great celebration for netball in WA,” Merillo said.
“Then it just kept rolling on and perception is a wonderful thing as the opposition are trying to bring you down. We had a strong bond that held everybody together.
“Often you feel, if you’re in the past, like you’ve been forgotten. But being recognised for this very successful, dominant period makes you feel that much more proud of what’s happening for young girls. To be the first female group to be inducted is very, very special.”
Rate said the world tournament in WA in 1967 had been a catalyst in setting the performance bar high for the WA teams. She felt fortunate to be part of what she described as well-integrated teams under the guidance of coach Bette Allison.
“We were very enthusiastic and highly-skilled,” Rate said.
“We really enjoyed our netball, we were well-disciplined and we had a lot of fun. Everybody wanted to be on the court and everyone wanted to do their best … and we did.
“We didn’t have a lot of privileges as State players, you earned your spot and you paid part of your way to go there. We knew that and that was part of the fun.”
Coates said she had a lasting feeling of pride and privilege to have been part of the successful teams and era.
“I was incredibly fortunate to be one of the youngest players to be brought up by these gorgeous ladies,” she said.
“I still feel close to the team members, the camaraderie was fantastic and we had lots of fun. Bette was a task-master who made sure we pulled our finger out and did what we had to do and we responded accordingly and rose to the occasion.
“Now we’re just like a gaggle of geese who laugh and carry on every time we catch up. Like most sports, netball gives you a lot.”