Danny Hall: Multi-title winners Sheffield Hatters need our help to survive

Sheffield Hatters WBBL Trophy winning squad, Jan 2016:  top row (left) Javier Romera, Helen Naylor, Georgia Gayle, Julie Page, Baendu Lowenthal, Naomi Campbell, Steph Gandy, Vanessa Ellis. 

Front row from left Sabra Wrice, Shauna Harrison, Ellis Clayton, Jo Lowry, Steph Ogden and Ana Santana Gonzalez.
Sheffield Hatters WBBL Trophy winning squad, Jan 2016: top row (left) Javier Romera, Helen Naylor, Georgia Gayle, Julie Page, Baendu Lowenthal, Naomi Campbell, Steph Gandy, Vanessa Ellis. Front row from left Sabra Wrice, Shauna Harrison, Ellis Clayton, Jo Lowry, Steph Ogden and Ana Santana Gonzalez.
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They have helped put Sheffield on the basketball map since the early days of the 1960s, winning title after title to the point that they can legitimately claim to be the country’s most successful women’s sports club.

Now the Sheffield Hatters need our help. Not to expand, but to survive.

Founder Betty Codona and Hatters star Steph Gandy celebrate one of Hatters many successes.

Founder Betty Codona and Hatters star Steph Gandy celebrate one of Hatters many successes.

The target is £5,000, with 1,000 benefactors sought to donate just £5 to help the Hatters defend their WBBL National Trophy title, and attempt to regain the WBBL League title.

Fears for the Hatters’ future were first raised earlier this year, when founder and chairwoman Betty Codona told this column that, at the time, they didn’t have the funds to ensure they could field a team this coming season.

“The league has become more competitive,” Betty said, “as more teams are finding financial backing which means they can recruit foreign and EU players.

“Five teams are funded by universities, two run their own facilities - which leaves two (including us) who are self funded.

“And the other one of the two self funded teams has a very rich backer. This means that clubs are able to recruit up to six foreign or EU players, and a few do. We survive - just! - from a combination of sponsorship, donations, grants and some very hard work on fundraising events organised and run by a small hard working group of unpaid volunteers.

“This all becomes more difficult each year, but we hope we can retain our reputation as the country’s most successful sports team - which we have achieved by winning over 60 titles over a period of 25 years.

“We have been going for over 50 but we had to work hard in the early years to move gradually to the top in 1990. That is another reason we will be trying really hard to find the funding for us to continue.”

Betty founded the Hatters in 1961, when the Beatles had just played at the Cavern Club for the first time, John F. Kennedy was the President of the United States and the young girls of Hatfield House Lane wanted a way to carry on playing basketball after they left school.

Betty was PE teacher of the school at the time and the Hatters were born.

In her time as coach alone, Betty won 40 national titles and coached 500 games. In the 1990s, 30 trophies were up for grabs for British women’s basketball clubs. The Hatters won 27 of them.

Betty’s legendary status led to a tournament being named after her - and the Betty Codona Classic will take place in Nottingham for the next three years.

“The Wildcats Arena is very honoured to be staging the Betty Codona Classic again,” said Nottingham Wildcats’ chairman, Chris Prior.

“The fact that it will also be here for the next three years gives us the opportunity to build the event even more and make it one of the highlights of the basketball calendar and a real celebration of women in sport.

“Another of our aims is to create an income surplus that will be used to further support WBBL activities and keep growing the league for the benefit of all the clubs.”

The Classic kicks off on October 1 and features the Wildcats, Barking Abbey Crusaders, Sevenoaks Suns, Leicester Riders, Cardiff Met Archers v Manchester Mystics, Team Northumbria and the Hatters, competing for the Betty Codona Classic and also the BCC Plate.

* To donate £5 to the Hatters cause, pay by BACS to Sheffield Hatters 40-41-08 21247239 or post a cheque to 225 The Wheel, Ecclesfield, Sheffield S35 9ZA.