“Passion with a purpose’’ is the Jenny Sanchez philosophy, as Netball Victoria’s newest Hall of Fame inductee and long-serving former president reflects on a half-century of continuous involvement as a player, coach, and administrator.
Sanchez says she was passionate about creating opportunities for women and girls in a sports system with an entrenched bias towards males, and also about championing netball at both the grassroots and elite level in a whole-of-community approach that is even more important when financial resources can be scarce.
But she was determined to do so by being evidence-based, ethical and strategic. A reliably loud voice at court-side during her beloved Vixens’ games nevertheless sent a clear and broader message.
“One of the real drivers for me was a determination that the sport that had been developed by women, for women, had to be successful. The option of failing just couldn’t be considered,’’ says Sanchez.
“You had to do things, whether they were comfortable or not, if they were strategically right and evidence-based, because we had to get to the point where we had good corporate engagement, good government engagement and our players were having that elite professional-athlete experience.
“I always had faith that we’d get there, but some days you’d go ‘oh, how quickly are we going to get there?’. But we just had to persevere.’’
A huge advocate for the qualities top-level netballers display as “consistently highly-competent, ethical inspiring role models’’ and thrilled that they can now earn a living and forge a full-time career in the sport, Sanchez’s greatest playing achievement was as a defender in a 1982 Victorian Open team that also contained such names as Sue Hawkins, Jane Searle, Noeleen Dix and Kate Palmer.
After a coaching stint with Essendon, she was elected to the Netball Victoria board in 2000 after the late-90s disbanding of the State League Commission, and was president for 12 years until May, 2017, then served a final year as a non-voting associate director to assist with the transition to Suncorp Super Netball.
“I’d had a bit of a taste of being involved in governance on the Commission and pulling some of those strategic levers, and after the commission was disbanded I decided I wanted to be where the power to really influence the future of netball in Victoria was and it was on the Board.”
“I felt we needed to become more driven and strategic in terms of where we were taking the sport. In my view it was a little too conservative and there were some elements where there needed to be cultural change.”
She retains great pride in the 2007 strategic plan, developed by the Board in partnership with the Netball Victoria staff and the community, to lay the foundations for significant change. It was a strategic plan that drove a vision for the whole of the netball community – grassroots to the elite.This whole of sport focus continues to be the foundation of the strategic plan for Netball Victoria.”
Having started out as an eight-year-old who was so keen to follow the coach’s instructions to just get the ball “and throw it that way’’, it took young Jen some time to grasp the concept of throwing it to a teammate, rather than simply the first player she saw going “that way.”
Sanchez’s way has helped greatly in the evolution of Victorian netball, and Hall of Fame admission has come more than 50 years later. Sanchez is grateful for the acknowledgement of her contribution, and respect for what has been achieved.
Yet this last story tells its own tale, and it’s hard not to smile along as Sanchez recalls an exchange early in her presidency when she was standing with then Victorian sports minister Justin Madden.
“Two women from country netball walked up and put their hands in the pocket of my jacket,’’ Sanchez says. “I said ‘what are you doing’, and they said, ‘we’re just checking if your pocket’s dry’.
“I said ‘what do you mean?’ And they said ‘we’re just checking if you’ve become a pocket pisser since you were president, but we’re pleased to tell you that the pocket’s still dry.
“I said to them ‘if you ever think that I have crossed the line and I’m not holding true to what I’ve said, you pick up the phone. And every year when they’d come to the AGM they would check in and let me know my pockets were still dry!”
Written by Linda Pearce
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