THERE used to be a real pride and magic about those midweek netball battles in Melbourne.
Navy and light blue balloons decorated light posts along the Western Highway, all the way through Footscray to the State Netball Hockey Centre on September 10, 2008.
More than 300 vocal Ballarat fans packed about the show court that Wednesday evening.
Ballarat Pride gave its all in an epic battle that stretched players’ mental and physical toughness into overtime – two seven-minute terms – for a state league division one final.
There was so much excitement and hype that night, The Courier photographer’s flash batteries went flat and she made a mad dash to the car park for an emergency stash to capture those final moments.
It was supposed to be the promise of something special. It was supposed to be the promise of something much bigger to come.
Pride became stuck on that night, neither adapting nor building on that promise for the introduction of the Victorian Netball League the next season when the club finally had the chance to play in the championship division action its founders and players had always coveted.
Now midway through its sixth VNL season, Pride players have been slogging their guts out to have only won five games in championship division.
Results, at times, have been more promising in the club’s division one and 19/under teams.
This was not enough to save Pride.
Netball Victoria announced on Tuesday it had axed Ballarat from the 10-club competition, refusing to issue another three-year licence, following an extensive competition review.
It is easy to point blame squarely at Pride.
The Courier readers were swift to jump online or on the phone to do so.
Pride’s acting club president Kaylene Trigg even admitted to The Courier the announcement did not come as a surprise and the club was left ruing what it might have done better.
Most have missed the bigger picture.
Netball Victoria ruthlessly cut Pride without any explanation or plans for other methods to develop the game in western Victoria.
Key officials for the game’s state body and VNL could not be contacted by The Courier, citing hectic commitments with national 19/under and 17/under championships in the week they dropped their Pride bomb.
A pathway for our netballers to play against the state’s best, in a competition that features ANZ Championship and Australian Netball League players, has been blocked.
There will be those quick to argue that top country players from the extended region moved to stronger metropolitan clubs anyway.
Netball Victoria should have taken action sooner to reinforce its VNL footing in western Victoria.
Regional papers in Bendigo and Warrnambool are busy spruiking potential licence bids for north-central or south-west clubs ahead of an information session this Tuesday.
Such hopefuls need to realise all the hours it takes to build and maintain a VNL club in competition centred in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
It is a huge commitment for players, particularly those in the 9.40pm fixture with work or school looming early the next morning – try that game out before trekking back to Warrnambool week-in, week-out.
Pride has been doing this since joining state league competition in 1995.
Ballarat is the only truly regional VNL club, although there is travel for Geelong and the Frankston-based Peninsula Waves.
Is Netball Victoria too Melbourne-focused?
How can country players strive to reach elite levels without easier access? Who will be there to inspire pathways for juniors outside the token Melbourne Vixens’ visits?
Pride is not blameless.
But interest dwindled in its cause long ago.
Ballarat has fantastic examples in state league football, soccer and south-east Australian basketball teams.
This is a city with booming netball ranks and a passionate sporting community that Netball Victoria has turned its back on.