Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Founding member reflects on her roles


The year was 1971, and a group of young mothers in Deniliquin and district were gathering with the aim of setting up a new sporting organisati­on in Deniliquin.

Among them was Val Keech, who would go on to hold various roles within what is now known as the Deniliquin Netball Associatio­n.

She played, she coached, she umpired and was on the committee for many years — including two extended stints as president — and through it all Keech said her love of netball grew.

But of course, it was not known as netball when she first became involved.

‘‘It was known as the Deniliquin Ladies Basket Ball Associatio­n, as part of the All Australia Women’s Basket Ball Associatio­n,’’ she said.

‘‘The name netball did not exist then, but when traditiona­l basketball became more and more popular the associatio­n had to find a new name.’’

It was not long after the Deniliquin organisati­on formed in the early 1970s that the national body adopted the name All Australia Netball Associatio­n (now simply Netball Australia), and the local group became the Deniliquin Netball Associatio­n. Keech was there through it all. Reflecting on the 50 years of the DNA, she joked that her children grew up on the Deniliquin netball courts waiting for her to finish her duties.

Her youngest daughter Danielle was born after she started her role with DNA, and older children Robyn and Greg had no choice but to accompany their mother to the courts regularly too.

‘‘We often joke that Danielle, in particular, was brought up on those netball courts at Memorial Park,’’ Keech said.

‘‘In those early days my husband Marty would play golf on Saturday, and he would have to come and pick me and the kids up because netball then would go from 10am to about 5.30pm.

‘‘Those courts at Memorial Park were a second home for a long time. At one stage I was coaching seven teams — from the minis right up to the seniors — so I was at the courts pretty much every day of the week.

‘‘And I would also go to St Michael’s School for sport on Friday and umpire their netball.

‘‘Robyn played netball too and was very good, and then Danielle started playing as well.

‘‘I wanted to be involved in setting up DNA because I wanted to see it grow and felt it was needed. I stayed because we all had a lot of work to do.’’

President of DNA in the first year was Norma Duncan, with Marie Drennan taking on the top role in the second year.

Keech took over the presidency in the third year and stayed at the helm for 10 years. After a rest, she spent another seven years as president.

Keech recalled there being 520 members of the DNA as it became establishe­d and the sport grew in popularity, which made for very long days.

Initially they played on four disused and run down ladies basket ball courts at Memorial Park, with the committee putting in a lot of work and money over a number of years to improve and expand the facilities.

While the exact dates of the improvemen­ts have escaped Keech, the stories behind them are still clear in her mind.

‘‘We were very fortunate in that Fran Dawes, a friend and teammate of mine — her father Allan Graham was the town engineer.

‘‘There were already four courts at Memorial Park but they were half bitumen, half dirt. When it rained they would just pool with water.

‘‘Allan arranged for a mix to be put over the top of the courts, but you can imagine there was a lot of first aid involved if you fell over.

‘‘Allan also helped us get the grant to add some toilets and changeroom­s (which were only recently demolished at Memorial Park). All we had until then was one small toilet next to the water tower.

‘‘There was no shelter until the first was erected in 1978, and eventually we increased the number of courts to seven. They were all hot mix courts.

‘‘The committee initially met at Edward Public School until the clubrooms were added at Memorial Park.’’

Keech said the committee did once consider relocating DNA to Rotary Park when other sporting groups made the move, but the group was too invested in Memorial Park.

And she paid tribute to successive committees since then who have continued to implement improvemen­t — particular­ly the sealed courts, which she hopes will get a lot more use in years to come.

One of few times netball was relocated from Memorial Park was during the 1974 floods.

Water had completely inundated the netball courts, so a number of games were moved to the Deniliquin High School.

But when it came to finals, DNA thought outside the box.

It had help from the council to close off the road between Napier and Edwardes Sts in Deniliquin — between St Michael’s School and its extra playground — for two finals courts.

Keech said one of the biggest achievemen­ts in her time on the committee was the approval for DNA to become affiliated with the Victorian Netball Associatio­n.

It was finally granted in 1993, after a 20 year appeal, and she said it made participat­ing in state events far more achievable for local players.

‘‘If we wanted to participat­e in Country Week with the New South Wales Netball Associatio­n, we’d have to go all the way to Sydney.

‘‘We eventually convinced them that because we were only 70km from the Victorian border, we would be better off with the VNA.

‘‘I coached the first under 15s team to play in, and win the VNA tournament soon after that. They won their section in Kyabram at the junior knockout, and it was very exciting for everyone.’’

Keech also had great success in her playing career, with the team she captained — Mod Squad, a name chosen by Sue Miles based on a popular TV show at the time — winning the premiershi­p for the first three years of the competitio­n.

Keech then went on to form the Britons, with the team name living on for decades and with Keech as coach across various grades.

‘‘They were fun days, but of course very low key when we were first starting out,’’ Keech said.

‘‘I spent many years on the courts, and developed some lovely friendship­s. Robyn Douglas, Michelle Stenner, Ann Calnon and Sue Miles are a few names that come to mind.

‘‘And Robyn and Des Lutton; Robyn played in one of my teams, and Des later became the first male umpire within the organisati­on in the 1970s.

‘‘It was just lovely to see so many people enjoying the game of netball.’’

 ?? ?? ■ Val Keech pours through one of her DNA scrapbooks.
■ Val Keech pours through one of her DNA scrapbooks.

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