Softball: Hira to hit third hall of fame

By Shane Hurndell

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As a youngster in Central Hawke's Bay Rhonda Hira read an article about the New Zealand women's softball team touring El Salvador.

"I thought at the time I would like to be like that. Fortunately I was in the right place at the right time and got selected," Hira said as she reflected on a 20-year international career.

Her successes over two decades will see her inducted into the Unison Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame along with fellow Olympian, athlete Dianne Rodger during the May 18 Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function at Taradale's Pettigrew-Green Arena.

Hira, 47, who is now Christchurch-based working as a courier driver pointed out she was fortunate the then White Sox coach Ed Dolejs of Nelson had a policy of touring the provinces in the search for talent.

However softball, cricket and indoor cricket opponents of Hira, male and female, in Waipukurau knew she was destined for national honours in whatever sport she chose.

"Those were the days ... I used to play cricket in the mornings and then catch the bus to travel up to Akina Park in Hastings to play softball for Tukituki in the afternoons," Hira recalled.

A catcher who would go on to make second base her main position on the international stage, Hira, regarded Tukituki coach Ray Squire as "the man from day one" when it came to mentors.

Squire, who adopted Hira, and coached basketball, rugby and softball said Hira was the most exceptional sportsperson he coached.

"She is one out of the box - she had the X-factor," Squire said when Hira became the inaugural inductee into the Central Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame last year.

A product of Waipukurau Primary, Central Hawke's Bay College and Mana College in Wellington, Hira, played for the White Sox from 1983-2003. She played in five world championships as well as the 2000 Olympics.

Softball New Zealand's player-of-the-decade from 1997-2006, Hira, said the 1990 world championships in Chicago were her best of the five.

The White Sox finished second to USA by two runs on countback when wet weather forced an early finish to the tournament, which saw New Zealand lose just one game in the round robin.

A 2010 inductee into the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame, Hira, won the top batter award at the 1994 world championships. She ranked the Sydney Olympics as the "pinnacle of my career because they were close to home and lots of family were able to attend".

"On the diamond it was good to see the sport's elite who I had played against for 15 years all there. Off the diamond I got to know other athletes from other sports who I watched on television," Hira explained.

One of her highlights on the national scene was winning the 1985 national women's club title with Whakatu Lions in Nelson.

"Although everybody out of the Bay had written us off we had high expectations. Because of our enthusiasm and camaraderie we did well," Hira recalled.

These days Hira is a keen golfer who plays off a seven handicap. She has been a member of the Canterbury Masters team for the past two years. "I eat, sleep and breathe golf."

She is full of praise for the work Hawke's Bay codes have done with their promising athletes in academies and other development programmes.

"They've done wonders with their young ones. You can always pick the Hawke's Bay athletes in national teams no matter what the sport ... they carry that mana."

Asked if she had any plans to return to the Bay in the near future Hira replied: "After 20 years of Tiki Touring it's good to be settled here in Christchurch. One day it might happen."

We couldn't leave Hira without getting her to name her White Sox selection, a team containing the best players she played with in the national side. It is: Pitcher, Gina Weber; catcher, Lesley Monk; first base, Fiona Timu; second base, Rhonda Hira; third base, Nardi Clark; short stop, Leslie King; left outfield, Sau Faleauto; centre outfield, Karen Mills; right outfield, Robyn Storer.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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