The Little Team

As a child I did swimming, tennis, judo, gymnastics and athletics. I also played netball. My best sporting memory belongs to netball. It was the pinnacle of my sporting achievement.

It was in my first season of netball. I was in the under eights — the little team. I do not remember my first night at training, or the obligatory thanksgiving service (it was a Methodist team), but I do recall my uniform. It was a grey box pleat tunic with two wide strips along the bottom of the skirt: one red and one green. I had to stand tall with my hands bunched at my sides, my knuckles determining my hemline. I wore a crisp white shirt under my tunic and a red corded belt at my waist. It had tassels like a misplaced curtain accessory.

The winter season was divided into two rounds. Sometimes we played at home and sometimes we played away. Our Mums and Dads took turns driving us to away games. We lined up jostling, hand-in-hand, determined to sit next to our best friend. For home games we brought oranges: one for our self and one for our opponent. I enjoyed the car ride. I enjoyed playing games at practice. I liked the oranges. But I was lazy on the court. I did not like being out of breath or running hard, I did not jump high enough and I did not care overly much about winning. But I was taller than most of the other girls so they put me in defence.

Juanita McCurdy’s dad was our coach. He wore a gold neck chain and a leather coat. His skin was more olive than it should be. He made us do drills. We practiced bounce passes and chest passes. We learned how to attack and defend. We endeavoured to catch the ball without stepping. On Tuesday training nights, our breath came in little silver puffs as we giggled our way round the church netball courts. The overhead lights made circles of light on the gritty asphalt. Mr McCurdy was a good coach. We only lost one game that season.

The Grand Final was played on a neutral court. We brought our own oranges. I was skittery-nervous in the car on the way to the game. I checked the length of my fingernails. I checked the length of my friend’s finger nails. My Mum had tied my hair ribbons extra tight. My straggling fringe felt like barbed wire it was held back by so many bobby pins. The team bibs were given out in silence. As I walked on to the court the soles of my Levi sneakers felt too thin. We took our positions. The whistle blew. Suddenly, it was happening.

I do not recall the name of the team we played that day, or the colour of their uniform. I certainly don’t know the score. I remember jumping high, and my Dad’s smiling face, the sound of my mother’s cheering. I remember Susan Lacey and Catherine Purvis popping impossible shots from the edge of the goal ring. I remember sunlight and singing our team’s song with a high, light fairy-floss kind of feeling. I remember winning. Then, after the game, Mr McCurdy bought as all ice creams.