Hatters star Betty celebrates 80th birthday

Betty has recently celebrated her 80th birthday
Betty has recently celebrated her 80th birthday
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Betty Codona has played a vital role in women's basketball for over 50 years, and after recently celebrating her 80th birthday, is showing no signs of giving up just yet.

She started as a PE teacher at Hatfield School in 1959, but it wasn't until 1961 when a group of young girls came to her, eager to carry on playing basketball, that the Hatters were born.

Betty, September 13 1994

Betty, September 13 1994

"The boys played it and I've always been a bit of a feminist, so I though I'll let the girls have a go," she said.

The Hatters are now the biggest, oldest and most successful women's basketball team in the country, and it all started with Betty's night school.

Betty, from Ecclesfield, added: "It did take over my life to a certain extent. I was lucky because my husband was 100 per cent supportive. They used to ask him what he did for the team, and he used to say he was the gopher.

"He was that sort of person - so enthusiastic, that was a big asset for me. It enabled me to carry on easily. I don't believe women should come second to men in either work, marriage, or life.

Throughout the years she's been awarded many medals, including an OBE

Throughout the years she's been awarded many medals, including an OBE

"I think we should be equal but it's a lot easier if your husband is very supportive and enthusiastic about what you're doing."

Over the years, Betty has been an advocate for women's rights in sport, and has often faced hardships along the way.

"We started winning a lot, we won and won and won. One day a coach from Derby said to me, 'Betty I think you should stand for director of coaching for the governing body'.

"I'd never even thought of it. So I did and I was elected to the board of England basketball. I enjoyed my time and was always willing to help, but I always flew the flag for the women's side of the game, because regardless of what people say, the women are still not really equal."

Betty with some of the Hatters

Betty with some of the Hatters

"There's a lot of unconscious bias in the world. When I first got a job as an England coach, my assistant was male but whenever we went anywhere to play games, the opposition coach, always went to my assistant to introduce themselves because they assumed he was the coach.

"I don't think the opposition coach was intending to be discourteous or anything it just happened."

And she says it is something she has struggled with throughout her long spanning career.

"Once we had the national final in Sheffield and I was on the board at the time, and a gentleman with whom I'm still very good friends with came to show us the poster that was going to appear all over Sheffield and there wasn't a woman on it.

Sheffield Hatters basketball U14s team with Englands silver medalist Captain Stef Collins after their successful win against Wales.

Sheffield Hatters basketball U14s team with Englands silver medalist Captain Stef Collins after their successful win against Wales.

"I said you can't put that up, and everyone said why not. I said 'yes the men are playing in the final, but so are the women and you haven't even got a small photo of the women'.

"One of the other directors said 'Betty you've got to be reasonable, the people aren't going to come and see the women they're going to come and see the men'. That's what I've fought against all the time."

It took Betty another two years, but she eventually got her way, she added: "I'm quite persevering really, people who've known me a long time know that. You've got to challenge."

"Somehow they've made feminist sound like a nasty word, it's uncomplimentary and I don't think that's right."

"In that respect I've got myself out there, through the winning, the coaching and standing up for women's rights."

In 1998, Betty was awarded an OBE for her contributions to basketball, and contributions to women's sports for her work with Sport England.

3rd Annual Betty Codona Classic Tournament. Sheffield Hatters v Barking Abbey. Hatters player Helen Naylor in action.

3rd Annual Betty Codona Classic Tournament. Sheffield Hatters v Barking Abbey. Hatters player Helen Naylor in action.

However, she didn't collect it until the following year due to the death of her husband Alistair, who was terminally ill with cancer.

She said: "He really desperately wanted to go down to London. He was so pleased. We did actually set off, we borrowed a massive vehicle to make him comfortable in that and we set off. We didn't get very far and he said I can't do it."

"We came back, and phoned Buckingham Palace and said we can't come. They were marvellous, they said don't worry about it let us know when you want to come. Well, I left it quite a lot of months. He died in October 1998, and I left it until the late summer of 1999.

Betty has also been immortalised for her contributions, in the Betty Codona Classic, a tournament in which the top eight teams in the country compete.

“I feel very honoured to have the competition named after me,” she said.

Fast forward to today, and despite the club signing with two major sponsors for the next season - Westfield Health and Peterson's forklift trucks - they still face the same financial struggles they did 50 years ago.

Betty said: "One of the reasons why we find sponsorship difficult to get is that sponsors, in general, tend to want to look for, first of all, football, and then generally men's sports but there are some company's out there that are very good. It's improved, but there's still a long way to go."

She says, it could be one of the reasons the team may not be able to hang on much longer.

"We have lots of goodwill from all the people and everybody says how wonderful we are and what a good job we've done but that doesn't pay our bills.

"Our court bill is £14,000 a year at All Saints sport centre, it's a really nice sport centre and we've played there since it was opened. Whereas clubs that use a Universities courts or their own facilities, they don't have that cost.

"I do feel we're fighting an uphill battle and we won't be able to struggle on much longer because each year, quite rightly, the league is trying to become more professional, and money wise we won't be able to keep up.

"In every other respect, I think, Sheffield Hatters is way up near the top, we promote our games well, we try and do everything professionally and we believe we do, but it's just that financial aspect," she added.

She says that once people come and see what the Hatters do, they are usually impressed, but it's reaching that stage first: "I defy anyone to come along and watch the little ones playing basketball and not be impressed. The atmosphere is brilliant."

The Hatters now have a team in the Women's British Basketball League, and Betty says that would be an asset for any potential sponsors.

"They get at least one TV game a year, and lots of other exposure. The team would wear the sponsors name on their shirts," she said.

After celebrating her birthday on April 12, Betty is looking forward to spending some time with family and friends, after taking a back seat on some basketball duties.

"I tried to retire, but I spend hours still on the game. I've been able to step down from doing quite a few things. My eldest daughter, Lorraine, she's more like the general manager of the club now and does a lot of work. I still write bids to get some money in, and I am involved in the club.

"I don't think I'll ever step out of it fully until I've no choice in it."

If you'd like to help out by volunteering, fundraising or are a potential sponsor visit www.sheffieldhatters.com

Nottingham Wildcats v Sheffield hatters - Betty Codona Cup

Nottingham Wildcats v Sheffield hatters - Betty Codona Cup