Stadium notches up 40th

PAST AND PRESENT: Whyalla Basketball Association vice-president Darren Hoffman with the association's first president Keith Lenon. Whyalla has developed a high-quality stadium.

PAST AND PRESENT: Whyalla Basketball Association vice-president Darren Hoffman with the association's first president Keith Lenon. Whyalla has developed a high-quality stadium.

This year marks a special anniversary for the Whyalla Basketball Stadium.

It has been 40 years since the centre opened and the Whyalla News recently spoke to then-president Keith Lenon about the history of the stadium.

“For many years we were playing outdoors and, although they were great times, we had to put up with the weather so it was great to go indoors,” he said.

“We had a stadium committee organised in the mid-70s, probably around 1974, and they got together with the help of the management to make the idea come to fruition.”

Current vice-president Darren Hoffman said he enjoys being involved with the association and playing at the stadium every week.

“We still have 1100 playing members, season to season, and still play two seasons a year,” he said.

“The stadium is fully used – the three courts are used for games from 5:30pm to 10:30pm pretty much every night of the week. I did play here as a youngster when it was just the one court. To hear the stories that Keith tells shows he has a fantastic memory and did a lot for the sport back in the day.”

The following are extracts from articles written by Mr Lenon that were published in the Whyalla News in the three years leading to the stadium’s opening in 1977.

“Competitive basketball in Whyalla had a very modest beginning in late 1955. Five men’s teams assembled at the old aerodrome (now on the western edge of the wetlands) and played under the control of a small committee headed by Bob Swanson, the virtual founder of basketball in Whyalla.

The population of Whyalla at the time was about 13,700 people when the Whyalla Town Commission’s Chairman, Mr C. Ryan, tossed the ball to start the first match with about 300 people attending. 

Local sportsman John Rumball and Parker Dix were among the locals to play their first games of basketball that night and they both went on to have long, distinguished basketball careers in Whyalla and were key players in many representative teams that would play against other teams from around the state.

In the next couple of years a women’s grade and a junior boys (under 17) were added, taking the number of registered teams to 13, but by 1963 this number had risen to 24 teams leading to the decision to move from the one court facility at the old aerodrome to a venue on McBryde Tce which had previously belonged to the Whyalla Women’s Basketball (now known as netball) Association.

In those days what we now know as basketball was then known as International Rules Basketball.

Through the mid to late 1960s, basketball in Whyalla continued to grow.

This required the development of a third court on McBryde Tce and by 1971, with Whyalla’s population climbing to nearly 27,000 people, the Whyalla International Rules Basketball Association included 98 teams across 14 grades.

Although now strong in numbers, the association was still very poor financially, being no closer to being able to finance a stadium than it had been six years earlier when it had only 24 teams.

At the annual general meeting in 1970, Allan Castle was elected president of the association and with the strong committee under his stewardship within four years the association had raised enough money that the prospect of building our own stadium was a reality.

In 1974, a subcommittee headed by Barry Waddingham was set up to begin the ground work leading to the construction of the stadium. This sub-committee included local lawyer, now Supreme Court Judge Wayne Chivell, Kym Marston, Val Robson, John Spooner and Mike Osborne.

In 1976, the Whyalla Recreation and Leisure Centre was opened allowing Whyalla basketballers to begin playing indoors, but the association was still working towards a home to call its own.

By June, 1977, with the help of a loan from the Whyalla City Council and a generous grant from the BHP Community Development Committee, the Whyalla Basketball Association had its new home at Jubilee Park with one indoor and 2 outdoor courts. 

Officially opened on June 18, 1977, this would not have been possible without huge efforts and hours of voluntary work by people like Barry Waddingham, John Kirby, Jack Woodforde, Bruce Dunn, Parker Dix, Keith Lenon, Ray Girvan and Gunter Scheide. 

Sincere apologies to anyone we’ve missed.

By the early 1980s, with Whyalla’s population about 31,000, the association now included 145 teams and the stadium had been expanded to now bring the two outdoor court indoors and give Whyalla one of the best basketball stadiums in any regional centre in Australia.”