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Bolger's 40 years recognised with Life Membership

A lifetime of service to the sport by Southland Basketball’s General Manager Jill Bolger was recognised at last month’s SBA Annual General Meeting with a life membership bestowed on the long-time administrator.

Bolger blows the full time whistle on her role with Southland Basketball this week and will step across to solely focus on her role with the Southland Sharks in the new year, making it the perfect time to acknowledge her incredible contribution to the sport in the south, according to Southland Basketball Chair Brian McKenzie.

“Jill has been a driving force for the sport in Southland. She is the epitome of everything that is great about the game of basketball. She has been the face and the voice for the sport for 40 years and during that time her drive, passion and amazing work ethic have taken our Association from something of a back-water into one that is held in the highest regard around the country,” McKenzie said.

The Life Membership follows Bolger being awarded a Basketball New Zealand Long Service Award earlier in the year, recognition she feels very fortunate to receive.

“You never do anything with a view that you are going to stick around long enough to get a life membership, but it’s really nice to be recognised. To be able to look back and say I’ve actually contributed a bit is great and it’s also really nice to be a member of a select club which is really active in the basketball community, which includes my two sisters (Lynne and Carole) which is really special as well,” Bolger said.

It was that family connection that got Bolger started in the sport in 1983.

“Lynne was involved as a player and she came to me and said they were looking for someone to do a few hours in the old ticket office in the stadium at Surrey Park. As you walked into the old stadium, there was a closet with a slide and that’s where I started out. People would come in and knock on the slide and I’d open it up like I was selling them tickets because that was the only space there was to work from.”

“I was a young mum with three kids and they were just looking for someone to do their administration. I don’t think they had anyone before that, the committee mostly ran everything in those days. I was only in that role maybe a year and a bit and then next thing you know, I’m on the committee and a couple of years later I’m chair,” she said.

The world-class venue Southland Basketball calls home these days in ILT Stadium Southland is a far cry from the humble surroundings Bolger started in 40 years ago.

“We had this old building that was falling to bits and people would come and play and there would be road cones on the court and people would run around them because there were holes in the floor. We had a wonderful club stalwart in Waitangi Osbourne, who passed away a few years ago, who would be out there fixing holes and players would be running around him.”

“It’s funny thinking about it now, but back then it was a really good social atmosphere. We had a big social room with a Yunca heater that our current patron Trevor Ryder put in and Wednesday night basketball would be on and they’d crank up the fire, open the bar and be there until all hours of the morning. It was quite different to what it is now,” she said.

Bolger had two stints as SBA’s committee and then board chair. The first for over six years before returning to the role not long after for another ten year stint, which only ended when she started in the role as Southland Basketball’s General Manager in 2010.

She categorises her time in the sport as a game of three halves.

“The first third of my time with basketball was fun and games and hilarity and things were a whole lot more social. The middle third was keeping things going, growing as much as we could and was business as usual, but this last third, the last 13 or 14 years has been off the rails in terms of what we’ve been able to achieve.”

That’s with the Sharks and now how we are seeing the women’s game starting to come good, but it is also just the incredible growth generally in the sport and moving into the Stadium was a really big part of that. You could never have imagined we would be where we are now,” Bolger said.

“A lot of people today won’t realise that in the 1980s and the beginning of the 90s, we had a First Division Women’s team who were in a true national league with import players, just like the Sharks are now, and we had a second division men’s team that won it a couple of times. I look back to the 80s and remember Southland had some of the best female players I have ever seen in action.”

“But even having said that, if you’d ever said then we would be on the international stage as we are now with the Sharks and the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns, I probably would have laughed at you,” she said.

There’s little surprise that the key theme of family comes up as Bolger reflects on what has kept her involved for four decades.

“In a way, the basketball community in Southland is one big family. It all comes down to how we as an organisation treat and respect people and I’ve always thought that the great relationships that you build whether it is with players or schools or the community is all about mutual respect.”

“For me, it really is because of family because Lynne and Carole are still involved, my brother Richard played at a high level and my other brother Geoffrey thinks he should be playing at that same level even now. Then our kids all played and now I have a grand-daughter in Shooters Club, so it has been a massive family thing,” Bolger said.

Of course, as you would expect in a forty-year tenure, she and the sport have faced their fair share of challenges.

“It hasn’t always been easy, we’ve had pandemic and a building collapse but we’ve got through because of the right people with the right attitude. That can-do attitude that we always talk about is alive and well in basketball and I don’t see any reason why that would change. I think sport, no matter what sport it is, is a great way to spend a good part of your life, which I have.”

Basketball in Southland will be forever thankful for that.

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