Case study

Case study

WhISPers Softball Club, ACT

What started as a whisper in ACT Softball has become a shout. At the conclusion of the 2007/2008 season in April, Indigenous teams made up 8% of individual registrations in local competitions.

It's a long way from 2001 when 3 Indigenous women, including former Australian representative Joanne Robson (Lesiputty) decided to establish a single Indigenous Softball team to compete in Canberra’s mainstream Softball competition.

Mrs Robson nicknamed the team WhISPers in acknowledgement of the support from the ASC's Indigenous Sport Program.

Mrs Robson admits that even with her elite sport and administrative background, starting out proved difficult.

'It was tough because the sport was not on the 'up’'at the time... it wasn't and still isn't a stadium sport… the sort of sport like football that is normally linked with Indigenous communities no matter what state or territory you go to.’'

A recruitment drive attracted just 5 juniors in the 1st season, so they joined a non-Indigenous team. Enough older women were recruited to enable a team to be established and they went on to win the premiership in their division.

Word soon spread and in the following season enough junior teams formed to participate in the Woden Valley Softball Association's Tee ball primary and high school competitions. Another women's team was also established.

Mrs Robson notes that some children have become representative players through their grades and it is common to see the junior players beat her to the field decked out in their gear and pulling bats and balls out of kits before the kits leave the car.

'A lot of these children hadn’' even engaged in team sports, let alone played Softball before and now they drive me batty when they're not playing... they watch their older brother and sisters playing and start hitting balls around the trees asking when is it their time to play. This is most distracting when I am trying to coach, but is fantastic to see them busting with excitement and enthusiasm.'

Mrs Robson notes that going to Softball is now a family pursuit with children wanting to showcase their skills for 'aunties and uncles', grandparents and great-grandparents who come to watch.

Parents too, have become more involved but Mrs Robson could see that there were still greater opportunities for their involvement beyond 'cutting up oranges and helping the children set out helmets and lining up equipment.'

'These parents were turning up on a regular basis over several years and slowly came around to seeing that if they came every week to help out, why not get some accreditation to do other things like scoring, managing and coaching.'

'Many of the parents now have sports accreditation they wouldn't have thought they'd ever have.'

The idea of giving Indigenous people opportunities to play, organise and manage community-based sport is at the core of the ASC's Indigenous Sport Program.

Mrs Robson said the key to success was involving families and providing a nurturing environment.

'This has to be sustained by the community. In the long-term they have to manage and drive it themselves and not rely on funding all the time.'

'I think they’re well and truly on the way. They're not isolated, they're part of a mainstream competition and they now even have non-Indigenous players in other clubs looking to join WhISPers teams.'

(Adapted from ASC's Indigenous Sport Programme Evaluation Report, August 2009).

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