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Jackie passes on her passion for netball

Netball | Published:

JACKIE NELSON lives, breathes, talks – and now walks – netball. A former president of the Jersey Netball Association, she was one of ten Island women who recently took part in a special England Netball course to enable them to lead training sessions for a new version of the sport called walking netball.

Introduced to Jersey in November last year by the JNA, walking netball is played at a slower pace to enable women of all ages, abilities and fitness levels to give it a go.

‘The main difference with walking netball and the standard game is that you can’t run and you have got to have part of your foot on the ground the whole time,’ explains Mrs Nelson, who is the honorary life president of the JNA. ‘In Australia walking netball is huge.’

According to Mrs Nelson, walking netball is perfect for people who believe they are too old to play the standard game or who have had to give regular netball up because of injury.

The sessions, which are open to all women over the age of 16, are being held every Sunday from 10 am to 11 am in Fort Regent’s Gloucester Hall.

‘When I attended last week, there were women playing from the age of 50 up to 80 and beyond – it’s a very inclusive game. It’s great for women who may have retired from playing netball, for people who may have a physical disability but want to experience netball, and for those who cannot play the traditional version of the game because of injury.’

Mrs Nelson knows all too well what it is like to have your playing career cut short by injury – she was forced to give up netball the day she turned 30.

‘I found out on my 30th birthday that I had arthritis,’ says Mr Nelson (60), a former Trinity player. ‘I couldn’t get on to a netball court for about a year and then I was asked to get involved in coaching.

‘That was meant to be because the pleasure I’ve had from coaching has been amazing.’

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Her voluntary coaching career began at St Lawrence Netball Club some 27 years ago. She went on to coach netball at First Tower School and later took charge of Jersey netball teams across myriad age groups.

Over the years Mrs Nelson, who currently coaches the Jersey over-30s, has developed a high standing in the game and one of the reasons for that is thanks to her hugely successful tenure as president of the JNA.

During her five years in the role, Mrs Nelson – who stepped down from the post in 2012 – played an instrumental part in orchestrating the JNA’s move indoors to Les Ormes. Previously, the JNA had held all of its games outside – first at FB Fields and then Les Quennevais. However, many players became disillusioned with a sport ill-suited to the open air and quit.

Thankfully in 2010 Mrs Nelson signed a five-year agreement on behalf of the JNA with Les Ormes’ owners, the Bosdet Foundation, for shared use of the four indoor courts at Les Ormes.

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It was the moment when the game quite literally came in from the cold.

‘It changed netball completely. At Les Quennevais your hands were so cold you could hardly catch the ball on some winter nights – the top players had to give up because they physically couldn’t play.

‘People came back to the sport because it went indoors, and the move inside improved the quality of the netball.

‘And to not have games cancelled because of rain was brilliant. But [the move] wasn’t just down to me – Linda Andrews as development officer played a crucial role.’

Of course, the danger with not owning your own place is that the owner can always ask the occupant to move out. Although there is no suggestion of that happening in the short term at Les Ormes, Mrs Nelson is adamant that the JNA will eventually need a place to call its own.

‘We do need a permanent home and we are continually searching for one,’ says Mrs Nelson, who lives in St Ouen with her husband of nearly 40 years, Bob.

‘The Team Jets games used to be up at Les Ormes but they are now played at Fort Regent because the Les Ormes complex [which has four netball courts] is too small to cope with all the netball on top of the golf and the many other activities that are run there.

‘We are already a thriving association with over 100 girls turning up on our youth nights and if we had our own home, netball would go up another step.

‘But we do not know where we’d go if we lost the courts at Les Ormes.’

The amount of cash that will be made available to fund Jersey netball teams participating in overseas matches in future is another unknown.

Jersey Sport recently took over the governance of the travel grants scheme for Island sports, which was previously administered by the Advisory Council for Sport.

Up to £125,000 is available this year as part of the States’ commitment to developing sportsmen and women, and sports associations are now being invited to apply for funding to help with the cost of travel.

‘We’ve done all we can to plead netball’s case to Jersey Sport. Now we just have to wait and see.

‘One thing is for certain – travelling as part of a sports team is a brilliant way to experience getting off the rock when you are young because you get to go away with people who share the same interests, and you also have responsible adults to look after you.’

A grandmother to four children – Jude (2), Ivy (4), Taylor (5) and Isla (6), who recently started attending junior netball classes – Mrs Nelson is the head of what could be described as a sporting dynasty.

Her daughters Michelle (36), Rena (35) and Karen (33) all play in the St Lawrence Netball Club first team. Rena, who once attended trials for the England women’s rugby team, recently completed her tenure as president of Jersey Touch Association, Karen coaches St Lawrence’s youth squad and Michelle is coach of the club’s senior section.

The role of club secretary at St Lawrence, meanwhile, has been occupied by Mrs Nelson for more than 25 years – and she is planning some events to celebrate a significant birthday for the netball club.

‘I realised it was our 50th year in 2018 so we have decided on two events – a black-tie event that all past and present members can attend, as well as an afternoon of fun games for all the children and members of the club to enjoy, in July.’

She says the club’s enduring appeal can be attributed to its family-friendly atmosphere and a strong focus on fun.

‘My philosophy is that netball is there to be enjoyed. The banter at the club is great and we even have past members now living in Australia who keep in touch with our club on our Facebook page. We report births, engagements, marriages so everyone knows what is going on – we are very much a family which is a big part of the club’s appeal.’

It was through St Lawrence Netball Club that Mrs Nelson began a 15-year association with the Nairobi Slums School Projects Trust, playing her part in helping the charity’s founder and St Lawrence netball umpire Gill Bell, to raise the money to build a school in the slums of Nairobi.

‘We held charity sales and Gill took netball over to Nairobi – she taught the school children there how to play netball.’

Helping children from all backgrounds to kindle a passion for sport remains Mrs Nelson’s overriding interest.

‘Sport is a wonderful tool for helping youngsters socialise and it helps them understand the benefits of team work.’

lAny past members of St Lawrence Netball Club who would like to attend its 50th anniversary black-tie event should contact Mrs Nelson on 07797796375, or email jackienet57@hotmail.com

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