The Australian Under-14 Club Championships, a highly regarded fun and elite basketball event held annually as a part of Basketball Australia’s Australian Junior Championships tournaments, had this year’s instalment scheduled to be contested in late September.
However, with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 event was unfortunately cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1970.
Despite the disappointment that comes with the cancellation of the widely treasured event, Basketball Australia took some time to reflect on the history of the Under-14s, and in particular with Victorian club, the Bulleen Boomers.
The Bulleen Boomers have an extensive record of participation in the tournament and currently hold the most titles in the Under-14s event. Overall, the club has won to date 19 titles; 12 being the Michele Timms Championships with their girls team and seven Ken Watson Championships with their boys team.
“Bulleen is very proud and passionate about the Under-14 Club Championships. The Club enjoys the proud history we have achieved. It is particularly pleasing with our history of success in the girls, with the girls Championship trophy named in honour of our Hall of Fame Legend and Life Member, Michele Timms,” states Bulleen Club President, Mike Connell.
Looking back on their success, the club has seen various players of note feature in their Championship-winning teams. These players include former Australian Boomers David Graham (1978) and Darren Perry (1981), former Australian Opal, Sally Crowe (1985 and 1986) and current Chemist Warehouse WNBL athletes Gemma Potter (2015) and Funda Nakkasoglu (2007 & 2008).
Exceptionally proud of their Championship legacy in the tournament, Bulleen monumentalise all of their victories at their club stadium.
“We have a plaque up in our foyer at Sheahans Road celebrating all the teams that have won. It is great to look back on them and see some of the incredible names of the athletes and coaches, as well as seeing very famous Bulleen names like Collinson, Perry, Lucas, Burt and more,” explains Connell.
Linda Collinson, a former State Coach and Assistant Coach with Chemist Warehouse WNBL team the Deakin Melbourne Boomers, won back-to-back titles at the tournament in 1985 and 1986. Her mother, Jan Collinson, has been influential in the history of women’s basketball and was a strong advocate behind the launch of the girls participating at the Under-14’s events.
Connell, who has been with the club since 1991, explains how the Under-14 Australian Junior Championships is a different atmosphere to the other tournaments.
“The Under-14 Nationals have a very different feel. You get to go to Nationals with your friends and teammates that you play with, week in week out. It becomes the culmination of more than a year’s work, you get to enjoy a week away at Nationals together.
“The titles also have a more relaxed feel. I think people understand that for many of the participants the Under-14 tournament may be the only Nationals they attend. Additionally, these are 13-year-old kids, they still need the chance to be kids and get to socialise, have fun and make friends with the other teams.”
The tournament, which celebrates the ‘club’ involvement, requires a significant dedication of time into training and competing in the respective State qualification processes to attend Nationals. Connell explains how the qualification journey is a major challenge of the Under-14s competition.
“There has always been a confident expectation that our Under-14 teams would qualify for the event, even in the old format when you had to make the final of the Victorian Metro Championships to qualify.
“Aside from winning so many Championships, we have been fortunate to qualify regularly for the event and so there are always people around the Club who understand how special the experience is and can provide advice, support and encouragement.
“Nationals year is a big year; it’s a huge commitment for the coaches, players, their families and the Club. We understand how important it is to qualify and so we provide some extra support to those teams to help them wherever we can; extra training, fundraising advice, support and connecting them with other coaches and teams that have been there before. We often provide coaches with a mentor who understand what it takes to qualify and win.”
Connell also noted a special moment from his involvement with the tournament.
“I was lucky enough to get to be Assistant Coach for my son, Hunter’s Bulleen team that finished ninth in 2018, qualifying for them was like winning Gold!”
The Under-14 Club Championships are still scheduled to proceed for 2021.