Big moment for little athletes
For 50 years, one WA sporting institution has spawned a cavalcade of star athletes locally, nationally and well beyond.
Household names such as footballers John Worsfold and Simon Black, high jump legend Christine Stanton, javelin champion Kim Mickle, hockey superstar Jackie Pereira and the State’s most recent Australian netball star Courtney Bruce, have all started on their pathway to stardom through Little Athletics.
Mickle will next week join West Australians including Stanton, Worsfold, Black, Pereira, dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist John Steffensen and AFL umpire Brett Rosebury on the Little Athletics Australia Roll of Excellence when she is inducted alongside former Gosnells and Southern Districts athlete Rishelle Hume.
It all started in 1968 when Robin Johnson, a Perth man who could not play ball sports because of astigmatism, which produces blurred vision, was pushed into athletics and was angered by the lack of coaching and opportunity in WA.
Mr Johnson, an inaugural WA Citizen of the Year Award winner, conducted WA’s first Little Athletics meeting at Perry Lakes Stadium on February 17, 1968 with 200 athletes and 12 officials sharing six stopwatches and a limited assortment of equipment, including one javelin, one shot and one discus.
Olympic legend Shirley de la Hunty and WA running great John Gilmour joined him on the inaugural committee.
“It’s satisfying, I’m proud of it,” the 84-year-old grandfather of six told The Weekend West. “It’s great that a lot of the main aims are in place, it still has the emphasis on PB (personal best). The key thing is to improve your own performance.”
Stanton’s remarkable rise started at a black cinders track at Perry Lakes and took her to three Olympic Games. Her husband David and his family have been a driving force in WA Little Athletics and their children Kaylia, now a netball shooter with West Coast Fever, and Jack, a javelin star, also competed.
“It was bare feet with lots of fun and lots of kids . . . on those hot days the cinders used to burn into our feet,” Stanton recalled.
“The friendships you make and the community that is around you, it’s about participation and improving your personal best and I think that’s vital. You can have incremental improvements that can be helpful for building self-esteem.”
Mickle said she started Little Athletics in under-7s and went through until under-15s. Competing at Ocean Reef, she soon steered away from her dream of being an AFL footballer.
“I straight away ditched my AFL idea and wanted to be an Olympian,” she said. “Not only did you get to race and compete in several different events in one day, but if you managed to get a PB, the club bought you a Mars Bar. I made some incredible friends and it led me to two Olympic Games, three Commonwealth Games, four World Championships and an Australian and Commonwealth record.”
Worsfold said he was inspired by the Olympics to join Little Athletics and remembered competing in the long jump behind the goals at Fremantle Oval.
“It was a real bonus for a kid who dreamed of playing footy there one day,” he said.
“I was not a star at anything but loved having a go.
“I enjoyed training and also learnt at a young age about having to focus and harness your nervous energy. I was a lot more anxious about athletics than I was playing footy because I had to overcome my fear of not doing well.”
Little Athletics WA chief executive Vince Del Prete said the anniversary would be marked with a gala dinner in February, special medals, a new logo and a book.
He expects up to 10,000 little athletes to compete across the State this year.
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Christine Stanton with her daughter Kaylia at Perry Lakes this week.
Christine Stanton competes at Perry Lakes.