Betty Codona: a true top Hatter

The year is 1961. 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.

Friday, 11th March 2016, 3:15 am
Flashback: Hatters star Steph Gandy receives the Betty Codona Classic Cup a year ago - from Betty Codona

They went to Betty Codona, their PE teacher who had introduced them to the game, and the Sheffield Hatters were born.

“I knew very little about basketball when I introduced it in school, so when I started the club I thought I had better improve my knowledge,” Betty says.

“We just loved playing. I played in the early days and still have friends from those early teams. I never thought it would achieve the success it has.”

The Hatters are the biggest, oldest and most successful women’s basketball club in this country, and Betty has been there from the very start.

They have dominated the game since the early 1990s and boast to be the most successful women’s sports club in the country; Betty alone, in her time as coach, won 40 national titles with the Hatters and coached 500 games.

In the 1990s, there were 30 possible trophies for British women’s basketball teams to win. The Hatters claimed 27 of them.

Betty will take more of a back seat this weekend after retiring, but her contribution has not been forgotten. The Hatters compete with seven other sides in the Betty Codona Classic at All Saints, a tournament they won last year and host this.

“I feel very honoured that this new high profile competition was named after me,” Betty, from Ecclesfield, added.

“We are hoping to retain the trophy this year but we have one of our key players injured so we will be asking for everyone to step up their game this weekend.

“We will certainly do our best to retain it.”

Georgia Gayle, Betty’s granddaughter, has emerged as a key player for both the Hatters - now coached by Betty’s daughter, Vanessa Ellis - and young England; but can expect no preferential treatment from the First Lady of English basketball.

“I have never liked to identify key players as basketball is a team sport, and there is no I in team,” smiles Betty, who was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to sport.

“Our end of season awards are a fun evening with awards such as ‘The Silly Cow Award’. What I am proud of is that so many ex-players are still involved with the club.

“Many players stay with the club for years - in fact, we have one player in the 50+ Masters Team who has been with us from 12 years old.”

A second defeat of the season to Team Northumbria last weekend makes a WBBL title victory improbable, but Hatters are a side not accustomed to trophy droughts.

“After all,” says Betty, “we did win the WBBL Trophy in January!

“And there is still the Classic, and the play-off championships to go for. And you can bet we will go for them.

“We have been going for over 50 years but we had to work hard in the early years to move gradually to the top in 1990. Since then, we have won over 60 titles... and we hope that we can retain our reputation as the country’s most successful sports team, which we’ve worked so hard to gain.”

* Schedule at All Saints -

Saturday, 11am Cup: Nottingham Wildcats v Team Northumbria; 1pm, Cup: Westfield Health Sheffiield Hatters v Barking Abbey Crusaders; 3pm, Plate: Leicester Riders v Brixton Top Cats; 5pm, Plate: XCardiff Met Archers v Sevenoaks Suns.

SUNDAY, 10am Plate 3rd place game; 12pm Cup 3rd place game; 2pm: Plate final; 4.30pm: Cup final.

* Full report in next week’s Grass Roots.