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2nd Jul, 2022

Thunderbirds show there is more to Stratford than Shakespeare

Liam Moakes 3rd Oct, 2018

THUNDERBIRDS Netball Club played host to a group of South African students who travelled to Stratford in search of quality matches.

Following a run of success last season in both the Birmingham Intermediate and Redditch Senior leagues, Stratford-based Thunderbirds were approached by sporting tours agency Travel & Sport to host the group of promising elite netballers aged between 16 and 19.

The tourists, who come from nine different provinces, were plucked from hundreds of young hopefuls competing in the annual AJ Thompson Tournament last March. The next time the visiting squad saw each other was at the airport en route to England last week.

Their ten-day visit to England took in Bath, Bristol and Stratford before heading to London.

“We use netball to build bridges,” said group leader and head coach Johlene Pietersen.

“These tours provide a rare opportunity for girls to visit other countries, regardless of social background or academic ability. They see the world outside the box they normally live in.”

Pietersen, who is leading her fourth overseas tour, hopes her girls will get more from the experience than just a series of solid victories under their belts.

“I am not only a netball coach. I want to teach every player to stand as a woman in the world,” she added.

For Thunderbirds this international encounter represented a perfect developmental opportunity for head coach Kelly McCormack, who selected two teams of girls aged between 12 and 17.

Despite a spirited performance from the home teams, the South Africans were invincible on the day, winning both matches 44-19 and 48-7 respectively.

A grant from Stratford Town Trust in 2017 has put Thunderbirds in a stronger position to not only host events such as this but to develop players to face such challenges.

It supported extra club nights throughout the summer and will allow for another Level 2 coach and more umpires to be trained. It has gone a long way to help meet the demands and ambitions of the club’s growing membership.

The young Thunderbirds will remember the two thrilling games they provided for the spectators at Stratford Leisure Centre and hope this will be the first of many international bridges they will help to build.

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