Sports awards: Thriving league helping to offer sport for all ages
STOKE-ON-TRENT Netball League continues to thrive, and is even playing its part on the international stage.
The organisation, which was set up in 1960, sees 660 players of all ages taking to the courts at Northwood Stadium and Fenton Manor every week.
It all plays a big part in ensuring the development of netball, which is the fastest-growing female team sport in the country and has recently benefited from the award of lottery funding.
And it is not just providing recreation for women, it is also the inspiration for the next generation of England stars.
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Dominque Ford-Gordon and Georgia Reade are already involved in the regional set-up, while Ami Pickerel has had trials, and Josie Pointon played in the National Super League.
But it is not always all about glory, even if that is difficult to tell in the cut and thrust of all five divisions.
Clubs such as Newcastle, Tean Valley and Fenton Manor offer a chance to rediscover forgotten abilities or just get active.
Girls can learn the basics at primary school, start playing competitively against seniors before they leave high school and still take to the court when they're picking up a pension.
The late Joyce Haynes, star of the first Staffordshire county team in 1946 and inducted into the All England Netball Association Hall of Fame, was still playing when she was 80.
League committee member Lyn Rowe coaches the Newcastle and West Midlands sides.
She said: "We have a wide age spectrum and it gives the league a good mix. The standard is higher now than I can ever remember.
"Newcastle Town getting into the regional league and competing against the best in the West Midlands has shown the strength of netball in this area.
"And we are slowly seeing other teams coming through to put them to the test in our own competition."
In this winter's top flight, Newcastle, who also play in West Midlands Division One, continue to rule the roost – at least for the time being.
The club's own B team, who represent the area in the under-19s regional league, are among those who might fancy challenging the dynasty.
And then there's the oldest club in the county, North Staffs, who celebrate their 67th anniversary this year, and have two sides in the 10-team division.
Rowe has nominated the league in the Sport in the Community category of The Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year awards.
She added: "The league is continuing to build and now it's even bigger than competitions in cities like Liverpool. It has become a key part of Stoke's sporting scene."