Bev Hales, a Willetton gold medal winning team manager in 2001, has described the Under-14s Championships to be a high-class event which provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for the young athletes that qualify.
“It’s exciting qualifying at club level for the Under-14 Nationals. It’s the beginning of a unique opportunity and challenging adventure for the young talented basketball players, coaches, team managers and parents, to participate in an elite level sporting event,” explained Hales.
This sentiment is echoed by Rosemary Nixon, a four-time team manager and attending twice as a parent at the Under-14s. Nixon also praises the lasting impact the tournament experience has on their Willetton representatives.
“Records will show our Willetton Tigers’ boys and girls to be regular representatives for Western Australia at the Australian Under-14s Club Championships,” highlights Nixon.
“Everyone remembers the pride of wearing our Tigers’ colours: navy, sky blue and white at a national tournament,” she concluded.
The format of the Under-14s Club Championships involves 24 qualifying teams in both the girls and boys divisions, divided into six pools of four where they compete in a round robin competition.
The top two teams in each pool then progress to the Championship Division title, competing for the Michele Timms Trophy in the girls division and the Ken Watson Trophy in the boys competition. The remaining teams enter the Shield Division, vying for the Rachael Sporn and Phil Smyth Shields.
Throughout their participation, Willetton have achieved two Shield Division wins in 2015 and 2017, topped with four overall Championship titles. Willetton claimed the Michele Timms Trophy in 1994 and 2006, plus the Ken Watson Trophy in 1996 and 2001.
Whilst winning the title is considered the ultimate achievement, Willetton measure their greatest successes to be in the growth of the association through the members, lifelong memories, experiences and pathways that are built through the Championships.
Simon Parker coached Willetton’s girls’ team to their Michele Timms Trophy win in 2006 and praises the opportunity that the Club Championships provides for young athletes wishing to pursue professional basketball careers.
“To win a gold medal as a coach was an amazing experience, not many teams from outside Victoria and New South Wales win these championships. To be able to do this is an enormous achievement for support staff, players and for our club.
“The competition creates an opportunity for young players to compete against so me of the best players in Australia at a club level. I do see the Under-14s as a pathway for players going into high performance programs like Southern Cross Challenge and State team selections for Under-16s,” explains Parker.
This pathway from the Championships through to high performance levels is one that former Perth Wildcats player and current Willetton Basketball Association Board Member, Cameron Tovey, proudly reflects upon as part of his career evolution.
“The memory of my Australian Junior Championships experience sits fondly with me as it was the first time I got to encounter competition against others outside of Western Australia. We were challenged in ways we hadn't been before and had to encounter and embrace those challenges together. I made lifelong friends as part of the journey.
The Australian Junior Championships was the start of some healthy rivalries as I progressed through the ranks to the NBL,” said Tovey.
Recently retired after 21 years as Board Chairman, Phil Nixon has attended six championships, two as a parent and four times with the teams. Watching the player development over the two years of qualifying and preparing shows the value of the Australian Junior Championships to the players and our association.
“The ‘life experience’ alone for our teams is delightful to see, as all the athletes ‘grow’ during the campaign and certainly in the week of the actual Australian Junior Championships tournament. I found it particularly pleasing to witness in every Australian Junior Championship we have attended, that there are always some players who lift above themselves and shine, to the surprise of their coaches, teammates and often themselves.”
Nixon also reflected on the experience, speaking highly of the learnings the event brought to the club.
"When Willetton hosted the Championships, the volunteers including myself, enjoyed the experience and felt pride as our stadium was open to the other states and their teams. Our club has gained a great deal of experience in all respects of the game through our participating teams and officials and the benefits they bring back to our association,” explains Nixon.
Willetton recently revamped their stadium and have seen their membership numbers increase to capacity. Their new building is a reminder of their extensive history and a credit to their hard work, commitment and strong club spirit.