Zone 4 player Ashley Steele (with ball) tries to get a pass away while being defended by the Fraser Valley’s Megan Kinloch during B.C. Winter Games netball action Friday at W.L. Seaton Secondary.

Zone 4 player Ashley Steele (with ball) tries to get a pass away while being defended by the Fraser Valley’s Megan Kinloch during B.C. Winter Games netball action Friday at W.L. Seaton Secondary.

Unique sport nets interest at Vernon’s B.C. Winter Games

To the uninitiated, one can’t help but notice that the sport of netball resembles basketball.

To the uninitiated, one can’t help but notice that the sport of netball resembles basketball.

There is a hoop – although there’s no backboard, it’s simply a ring with a net hanging down attached to a 10-foot pole – and players try to put the ball into the net, which is, of course, the main objective of netball, being played in the B.C. Winter Games at Vernon’s W.L. Seaton Secondary.

Though, as one soon discovers, only two people are allowed to do that on a team.

There are more players on a netball court and, instead of numbers, each player has assigned letters on a bib covering their T-shirts.

Players wearing GS (Goal Shooter) and GA (Goal Attacker) are the ones allowed to put the ball into the net, and they can only do so once the ball gets to them in a semi-circle near the net.

They are defended by players wearing GK (Goal Keeper) and GD (Goal Defence). The other players are WA (Wing Attack), WD (Wing Defence) and C (Centre), and their role is to get the ball to the shooters.

“Depending on the coach, but players can be specialized and only play one position,” said Ann Willcocks of Vancouver, who introduced netball to the province in 1974. “At this level, the coach can vary the positions and the players can play as many positions as possible.”

Players have three seconds to release the ball. There is no dribbling, which definitely encourages passing.

“A defender can’t rebound the ball and dribble up the court and score, you can’t have one dominant player in netball,” said Willcocks, who learned the game in her native England. “All of the players are necessary because all of them are needed to get the ball up the court.”

A netball court is divided into three sections, and only certain players can go into certain sections. For example, only four players can be in the scoring semi-circle.

In the opening game of the tournament Friday, Burnaby’s Megan Widmer, 17, scored a lot of baskets – worth one point each – in her zone’s easy romp over the Thompson Okanagan entry.

“I love the teamwork in netball,” said Widmer, who has been playing for five years, starting in elementary school and playing Saturday netball league action. “It’s not like basketball where you can have one or two strong players. I love the passing. It takes everyone to get the ball from one end of the court to the other.”

Netball, played mostly by girls – though as Willcocks points out there is a provincial men’s netball squad – has been part of the B.C. Games since their inception in 1978, but they’re back in Vernon after missing the 2010 Games in Terrace due to scheduling conflicts with basketball among a vast majority of netball players.

Willcocks introduced the sport to B.C. by putting up a sign in the downtown Vancouver YMCA asking for anyone interested in playing netball to show up for a meeting.

Two people came.

Willcocks, however, does not discourage easily.

“The Y was giving us gym space and the goal at the time was to get women more physically active,” she said. “So we each brought a friend the next time, we had six people, and then we formed some teams.”

Because the sport is hugely popular in the Commonwealth, Willcocks hit on the idea of attending rugby clubs in the Lower Mainland to get ex-pats out playing netball.

“We just steadily worked at it and formed a provincial organization,” she said. “Then we got Canadians out playing. Now we have provincial teams and a national squad (ranked 23rd in the world, Australia is No. 1).”

Netball, for whatever reason, has not caught on in the Okanagan. The Thompson Okanagan representatives in the Vernon Games are from Barriere, where the sport is popular.

“We have a lady in Kelowna who is from Australia and I’m hoping she can start it in the Okanagan,” said Willcocks. “We’ve tried it before but it just hasn’t worked here.”

The bronze medal game goes this morning at 8:30 followed by the gold medal battle at 10 a.m.

All games are at W.L. Seaton Secondary.