Netball and Windmill Rd - together again after six years

By Dana Johannsen

Seven-year-old netballers Evie Smoldon (left) and Alice Barry of the Good Shepherd Breakers at the re-opened courts in Mt Eden. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Seven-year-old netballers Evie Smoldon (left) and Alice Barry of the Good Shepherd Breakers at the re-opened courts in Mt Eden. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It has been six years since the whistles, cheers, laughter and tears have been heard at Mt Eden's Windmill Rd netball courts.

Yesterday, the bustle finally returned when Auckland Netball reopened the courts for competition for Year 3 to 8 netballers.

Netball New Zealand president Sheryl Wells, who officially opened the courts, is delighted the venue is being used again for competition, having started playing her netball there 55 years ago.

"Windmill Rd is very special to me because this is where my passion for netball was ignited and continues to burn today," she said.

Windmill Rd was the home of Auckland Netball from 1932 to 2006 before the association took a giant leap to its $18 million facility at Ngahue Reserve in St Johns, which boasts indoor and outdoor facilities.

Since then, the Windmill Rd courts - the venue for the 1975 world championships - have been used sparingly for the odd after-school programme and were generally considered a relic of the past.

But the sport's growing popularity with school-age children has seen the courts undergo a rebirth.

Over the past six years, there has been a 70 per cent increase in the number of teams playing in the Years 3 to 8 age group, increasing the total number of groups to a shade under 800.

Auckland Netball chief executive Dianne Lasenby said after all operations were moved to St Johns six years ago, it was always in the back of their minds that they would return to Mt Eden when demand required it.

"We realise the importance of retaining this important netball space within Auckland City and, having experienced ongoing growth from this age group over the past five years, we see it as vital we foster, accommodate and continue to encourage this increase in participation," she said.

Ms Lasenby puts the growth the sport is experiencing in younger age groups down to the advent of semi-professional netball in 2008 with the introduction of the ANZ Championship.

She said the sport and its stars now have a much bigger profile, which is inspiring youngsters to take up the game.

"I think the franchise competition has put netball on the map a bit more and Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia and some of the other Northern Mystics girls come in and do the holiday programmes with them, so that has really helped grow the popularity of the sport," said Ms Lasenby.

"Everyone wants to be a Silver Fern."

For the time being the courts will be used for school-age competition only on Wednesday evenings, but Auckland Netball is considering running some summer league games and Saturday competitions there from next year.

- NZ Herald

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