The Jets are netball winners, even when they lose

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The all-abilities team netball team, the Gungahlin Jets… from left, Lucy Myatt, Charlotte Bailey, Pam Murray, Marilyn White, Golden Gogia and Olivia Runting. Photo: Andrew Mathieson

WINNERS are not always measured on the scoreboard.

But the vanquished can still be grinners.

So no smiles are wider than the last women picked to represent the Gungahlin Jets.

The moment they all stride on to the court, wins and losses seem inconsequential.

The North Canberra netball division six side stood victorious just once throughout all of 2020 – and that only came in the laid-back Belconnen social summer competition. 

“The girls were so excited after that (win),” founder and coach Marilyn White says. 

“That wasn’t our goal, but we scored on average eight goals.”

The real success lies in what the team represents.

That is anything but your typically speedy centre, behemoth shooter under the net or dour and disciplined keeper.

They, in fact, are a group drawn from diverse, yet inclusive, backgrounds.

Netballers with special needs, netballers on the mend from injury, netballers that never experienced team sport before.

Just coming together is a reason to celebrate.

It takes a while for rivals to accept their presence and true goals.

“The other teams would go a bit hard at the beginning against us,” Marilyn says.

“Because of the covid year, we didn’t have much time before the game to talk about it.”

One time the undefeated benchmark of the competition renowned for their ruthless approach stopped the game when one of the Jets players got whacked in the glasses.

All of their players rushed to the hurt opponent with a disability concerned over her well-being.

“We hope we bring out the best in all of the teams,” Marilyn says.

The all-abilities team was the dream of a wishful coach back in 2017.

Concocted from the idea where recruiting players had nothing to do with ability but opportunity.

It went against the principles of competitive sport and even a local competition.

“Sometimes it’s actually hard because we play against regular teams and they allow us too much,” Marilyn says.

“I’m like, ‘my team isn’t going to learn if you just let them get the ball too easily’.”

Other clubs have been so inspired by the Jets’ approach and virtues to the game, there is talk about following suit towards an all-abilities netball division in Canberra.

Netball ACT and the ACT Deputy Chief Minister thought so highly of the concept that they handed out inclusion awards for the Jets’ Shooting Stars program. 

“We are one of a kind at the moment,” Marilyn beams.

It all had culminated when the territory’s netball rookies with an intellectual disability returned from playing states in the Marie Little Shield in Queensland with no pathway to continue.

Concerned the team would lack direction side by side against seasoned Canberra netballers knowing the game too well for too long, the coach intervened and swapped the clipboard for a playing bib.

“I thought only having girls with a disability on the court there is no guidance for them,” Marilyn says.

“I could yell from the sideline like a coach does, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to understand.

“So I created an atmosphere of players who can play and put them in the thirds (of the court) and then build the girls around that to help develop their skills.

“As it was starting, I was talking to my friends who had never played netball before and I said this is the perfect team to start in.”

The side is based around the likes of a 17-year-old keen to play with her 21-year-old sister with Down syndrome.

A couple of the teammates are also autisic and one of them has OCD.

But also the ages rise quickly from 17, 19, 20 and 21 up to a few 50-year-old wise heads.

The veterans of the team are not all veterans of netball.

Pam Murray is a recent Canberra resident, born and bred in Canada, on the comeback trail from a hip replacement.

The crisp Vancouver accent is so foreign on court, but not so the recovery from injury that also struck another three ageing teammates.

Funnily, the inside joke is the coach was fit as a fiddle before the season, but was also the only player to hobble off after damaging a coccyx in her tailbone and fracturing an ankle.

Golden Gogia is an Indian national, who naively went on a Hawaiian trip with middle-aged friends playing in an ironically-named golden oldies tournament and fell in love with the game after watching just one quarter of netball. 

“They all want to help these girls, feel like they are part of a club, put the uniform on, be a vital part of the team and play netball,” Marilyn says.

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