Big mo­ment for lit­tle ath­letes

The West Australian - - NEWS - Steve But­ler

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.

See the video

Pic­ture: Danella Be­vis

Chris­tine Stan­ton with her daugh­ter Kaylia at Perry Lakes this week.

Chris­tine Stan­ton com­petes at Perry Lakes.

Kim Mickle

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