DO WE really deserve a state league netball club anymore?
Community response has felt underwhelming this past week since the news Netball Victoria would not grant Sovereigns a licence renewal in the Victorian Netball League.
Just like that, it was done and a new south-east Melbourne club staked the spot.
Perhaps the governing bodies wanted to play it out like that to avoid the community outrage in the state’s south-west, and predominantly in Ballarat, when our licence got axed in 2014.
From Ballarat Pride’s ashes, the Sovereigns were created under a sporting alliance to promote survival.
Trying to win us over was always going to be a big ask.
This is a competition based in Melbourne’s State Netball Hockey Centre in the middle of the week with a token home game thrown our way.
What Ballarat has consistently proved since Pride entered state ranks in 1995 was that we will turn out to watch our team. Our new Ballarat Sports and Events Centre showcourt is being built to show off our netballers.
The tough part has been staying competitive at the top. It has been this way for 10 seasons now, since Ballarat joined a revamped VNL in 2009 which has required fielding teams across three divisions.
Playing championship division had long been Ballarat’s dream to that moment. Pride finished runner-up and challenged for a championship division spot in 2006 under the former competition structure, then fell short of the division one title in overtime two years later.
Getting a chance in championship division was a whole different ball game. The top tier is peppered with players on the fringes of national league squads.
Luring players to complement western Victoria’s best netballers has been a major hurdle for a team playing in what is largely a metropolitan field.
Gradually as fans, we grew apart from our team. We lost interest.
- PRESS BOX: We need to see our Sovereigns to believe
Our team evolved into a bunch of players with little to no connection to this city or our broader territory.
Pride, then Sovereigns showed strong form in division one and 19/unders but this was never the same. To truly succeed, the program needs our top team to be rattling powerhouses.
Perhaps we, as a community, should have tried harder to help make this work.
Instead we are left feeling like this became all-too-hard and we are focusing our energies on grassroots netball.
Just like losing our Victorian Football League team last year, the talent pathway is cut and incredibly hard to get back.
We can be big fish as much as we like in our little pond but, like our football, such a mindset is disrespectful to all players, coaches and support staff who made this work.
Ten years ago, North Ballarat Roosters were on the verge of winning the club’s first VFL premiership – a feat so many had deemed unlikely. At the same time, Pride was in a division one state league final, vying to secure a VNL licence.
The Roosters and Pride were courageous. They were putting Ballarat sport on maps on which so many had ruled us out.
Our players were pushing their games to the next level and mixing it against elite company.
Ten years ago, this columnist made the pilgrimage down the Western Freeway following balloons to mark the path to Ballarat’s state league netball final, joining a stadium so heavily filled in Ballarat’s favour. Ballarat support was what every other netball club was so envious about.
Players were hometown heroes.
Footy-netball in the Ballarat and Central Highlands leagues was very much about trying to contain Pride, then Sovereigns, players who lifted the grassroots game in challenging teammates and rivals.
Leagues do evolve. The VFL is undergoing a resurgence of AFL arms returning – but note, Williamstown and Port Melbourne still made finals this season – and netball is increasingly upping the ante in pay deals for elite women’s sport. This all has trickle-down effects but it means we must evolve too in keeping up.
Netball ranks in Ballarat are booming with far more senior and junior grades in action on Saturdays then we ever had in our state league prime.
Just because we are a regional city does not mean state league netball is beyond us. We need to rediscover the passion to fuel us and play the game our way once more.
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