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Chairman’s report to the 25th Annual General Meeting

Sunday 14 November 2004, 12.13pm

The 25th Annual General Meeting of the National stoolball Association took place on Monday 29 November 2004.

A quarter of a century later

The inaugural meeting of the National Stoolball Association (NSA) was held at the Clair Hall, Haywards Heath on Wednesday 3 October 1979 at 8pm. Mrs Rosemary Hobbs was elected to act as Chairman and Mr Ron Edwards was elected to act as Secretary. So after a lapse of 37 years, life was once again breathed into the game of stoolball to produce a governing body.

The first governing body of the game was formed in 1923 and was known as the ‘Stoolball Association for Great Britain’ and was founded by Major W W Grantham. At that time over 1000 clubs were in membership – today our numbers just exceed 200 clubs.

25 years ago, ten leagues and associations were represented by 23 people (12 females and 11 males). Of those leagues, three have folded: namely Guildford Mixed, Border Mixed and Brighton & District Mixed. The West Sussex Stoolball Association, formed by Jimmy Armour-Milne back in the early 1970s, has now disbanded, but two of the three leagues which formed part of it at that time, Coastal and Chanctonbury, are still flourishing.

In the 81 years since 1923, we have seen 800 clubs disappear from our towns, villages and businesses. Our challenge today is first to stabilise our current playing membership, and then to plan the ways to develop our game and its membership. This is a challenge I ask you to help the NSA to meet with positive and enthusiastic activity. Much of what you will read below suggests that there are a number of people who are anxious to reverse the trend of declining numbers and, more importantly, are prepared and willing to do something about it. Will you be one of them?

Last season

Whilst the sun didn’t shine quite so brilliantly as in 2003, we did get through the league season without too many serious delays and all programmes were completed more or less on time.

A recurring problem on school and council pitches was the inability of contractors to carry out their grass-cutting duties at reasonably regular intervals. This resulted in games being played on longer grass than is usual for stoolball, or worse, trying to play with swathes of long dead grass littering the field.

Even more concerning has been news of phenomenally heavy increases in charges for use of grounds by district councils and their contractors. Collectively, we must question these increases and seek only to pay costs that rise in line with inflation.

Sport England and its failure to respond to our bid for “recognition”

A year ago I had to report that a “moratorium” had been placed on any “recognition” activities until April 2004, whilst Sport England sorted out its priorities. The frustration brought by this news was particularly high after all the work that had been put in by NSA officers to produce our application.

To learn in May of this year that Sport England had lost our application and all related paper-work was a display of inefficiency usually reserved for banks, insurance companies and national utilities. However, we were mightily relieved when our new Sport England contact phoned to tell us that he had found our application – the old contact disappeared amongst the 500 redundancies in 2003. He did mention at the time that our constitution was very much out-of-date. Mercifully this work was already in hand and we were able to submit the most recent draft to Sport England for comment.

We waited patiently for an acknowledgement of this document and for further news on our application but nothing was forthcoming. Further regular enquiries revealed that nobody had revisited our application or looked at our revised constitution because of pressure of work.

However, this may be good news for us, because we were told that our contact was writing a new policy document on the “recognition of regional sports”. All this does little to enhance the reputation of Sport England in your committee’s eyes, but we shall press on with the work we have started and hope that one day we shall be very pleasantly surprised.

Progress, progress, progress

If the above makes sad, demoralising reading, let me lift you with the wonderful progress we have been able to make on a number of fronts.

Our convention

This was held in February at Wivelsfield Green and had over 70 people from virtually all leagues and associations in attendance. The ladies from Sussex County welcomed everybody with coffee and biscuits and later provided an excellent soup and sandwich lunch.

We had presentations on child protection, first aid, stoolball equipment, stoolball and pregnancy, insurance and an umpire’s forum which proved very lively. There were also displays of stoolballing memorabilia which proved interesting and stimulating.

You will remember that this convention was held as an alternative to general committee meetings which, in the previous 12 months, had attracted only minimal attendance or support from leagues and associations in membership. We are just starting to formulate plans and find a venue for our next convention which will probably be in February/March 2005.

Our Coaching Qualifications Programme

This one has been a long time coming but thanks to the brilliant and dedicated work put in by Mrs Melissa Mantle, Senior Lecturer in Physical Education at University College, Chichester, we now have a coaching qualification programme underway.

To date, 84 students from all over the United Kingdom have been successful at Level One and a further 20 school teachers (and there are more to come) who already play a good standard of stoolball have been granted Level Two status.

This is a tremendous start to making newly qualified PE teachers aware of our wonderful game and it should provide us with a positive basis for introducing and expanding the game into schools up and down the country.

‘Let’s Play Stoolball’ video

After numerous attempts to produce a quality video (the earliest being made on Good Friday 1 April 1988 in readiness for the Independent Schools’ Physical Education Conference (ISPEC) which was attended by Mrs Delia Saunders, Mrs Andre Hartnup, Miss Gwyn Griffith and Mr Richard Emsley), we now have available an excellent production entitled ‘Let’s Play Stoolball’.

This video covers all aspects of the game and has been designed so that any organisation, village or community can start playing the game armed with all the necessary information. The video runs for approximately 40 minutes and comes with an information booklet containing rules, pitch dimensions etc.

Orders for copies, which sell at £20.50 including postage and packaging, are already being received.

This entire project, which has taken just over a year to complete, has been masterminded by Shirley Reed, my Vice-Chairman. She has done a superb job for the NSA and the game of stoolball and is to be congratulated for her initiative and persistent tenacity to see the project through to a successful conclusion.

In producing this video, we have had much help and encouragement from Caroline and Peter Carter of Coaching Solutions in Bognor, whose contribution to its success went well beyond the realms of filming and editing the material.

Nikki Woodroffe, a teacher from Bedales School (now at Sherborne School in Dorset) and her pupils, together with players from Stedham, Easebourne, Angmering and Steep stoolball clubs and many of the clubs who play stoolball around the Hampshire and Sussex borders, all provided many hours of actual and posed stoolball footage for this video.

We are also most grateful to Waft Sports (they produce our balls) for their sponsorship and last but not least our President, Rosemary Hobbs, whose enthusiasm, encouragement and support over so many years ensured that this video would see the light of day. Make sure your club, league or association orders a copy now.

Rules Working Group

It was clear from the variety of answers which were forthcoming to the questions posed at the umpires’ forum by Kay Price at our inaugural convention that there was a real need to look carefully at the rules of stoolball.

As a result, all leagues and associations were asked to put forward names of people whose experience would cover all aspects of the game, including playing, scoring, umpiring and teaching the game, to form a Rules Working Group.

Richard Emsley, the NSA’s Insurance and Publicity Officer, chaired the first meeting on Sunday 24 October at Cowfold Sports Pavilion and it soon became evident that there was much general accord to achieve a single definitive set of rules for the game. Further meetings will be taking place between now and the end of November, when it is expected that a full review will have been carried out.

An Extraordinary General Meeting will be convened in the new year to approve the implementation of these rules for the 2005 season.

NSA services to members – insurance, website and equipment

As people and things change, it is sometimes easy to forget the work that is put in to provide you with the wherewithal to run your leagues and associations.

In particular, I am mindful of and grateful for all the work that Richard Emsley puts in to provide your Personal Accident and Public Liability Insurance cover. This consumes large quantities of time and much patience and I am most appreciative of his efforts. I have asked for new people to come forward to take on this work so that Richard can devote more of his time to the promotion and development of our website and all aspects of publicity.

Could you be the person to put your hand up and offer to help? We need you.

On the stoolball equipment front, we have again had a very good year, meeting your requirement for bats, balls, scorebooks, spray paint and boundary markers. My sincere thanks to Shirley Reed, John and Barbara Fitzpatrick, Sue Verrall and Kay for coping so well as our local distributing agents. Their contribution to the well-being of the game is huge and I am very grateful.

Financial control

I would be failing in my duties if I didn’t pay tribute to the quiet but very positive control which Peter Cheesman, our Treasurer, brings to the financial affairs of the NSA. His contribution to the workings of the committee and the many new activities in which we have become involved this year have been most significant and I thank him for his efforts on our behalf.

The future and our next 25 years

Two brief stories – some of you may be aware that local education authorities are setting up lead secondary/private schools in all areas to act as the development hub for primary schools. One such school in Kent is Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls, which has five satellite primary schools at Amherst, Chiddingstone, East Peckham, Weald and Four Elms.

This year as part of their Junior Sports Leadership course the girls of Tonbridge Grammar School decided to run a mixed stoolball tournament for their hub Primary Schools.

Apart from having some very old wickets, bats and balls, they had virtually no experience of playing the game. The NSA were asked to help, so Kay and I visited the school on the last day of the spring term and carried out a very quick coaching session.

Much correspondence followed and eventually towards the end of May, D-day arrived. The day was a great success and much enthusiasm was generated for stoolball by both teachers and children alike. We donated a small cup for future competition, thus sowing the stoolball seeds for tomorrow. Wonderful!

The second story – I found it a little bit sad to hear that a young PE student was writing her thesis on ‘The reasons and remedies for the decline and fall in popularity and participation of the game of stoolball over the last 50 years’.

I found it sad because, unfortunately, it is true that numbers have declined. But I also found it interesting and challenging to see what answers and remedies the young lady would produce.

Do you care about the future of stoolball? Do you want to see it continue and expand? Are you prepared to sharpen your pencil and make a contribution? Please look at your county, your league, your association, your club and see if you can find some people who will help to run the game at a national level.

As a very real and positive starter for you, the NSA committee have identified the need to review all financial aspects of the organisation relating to terms of membership, annual subscriptions etc. Next year, we will be setting up a sub-committee/working party, possibly chaired by Peter Cheesman (we haven’t asked him yet!) to look at all such related matters. It should only involve one or two meetings.

I am sure that among those of you reading this report, there are many who will want to ensure that there will be at least another 25 years of stoolball, where the game is recognised by Sport England and played throughout the country. What do you think?

John Price, Chairman, 31 October 2004

Tags: meetings