Di Woolley has built a credible portfolio of work that saw her rise to become President of South African Schools Netball 18 years ago.

Woolley, who worked as a physical educator at Benoni High, where she coached everything but netball, was told by her principal to lead the netball team and since then she has never looked back.

Her defining moment came when she attended netball trials with her team and encountered a situation where those who had played provincial the previous year sat one side and the rest of the players had to battle it out for the remaining positions.

Woolley voiced her opinions on the unfairness of the decisions that were being taken, so the following year she joined the committee as it was the only way that she could make changes.

From there, her journey as an administrator, coach, manager and umpire started and today, she is still fighting for the rights of educators and children.

Woolley has always fought for what she believed in and her passion for sport has no limits. Growing up, she contracted Rheumatic fever which left her with a heart defect, preventing her from playing sports.

However, while in secondary school, she chose to do otherwise. She participated in athletics at national level as well as long jump, played hockey and provincial cricket at university. Later she went on to play provincial volleyball and football.

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Woolley chats about championing women’s sport and what she is still hoping to contribute to netball in South Africa.

Di, thank you for taking time out for gsport! How are you managing life under lockdown?

Great! I have had a lot of time for introspection, self- evaluation and soul searching. I have also used this time to catch up on ALL my admin, tidied things at home, writing inspirational thoughts and just reaching out. I have thought of a lot of fresh ideas for sport and for school.

What is the most significant change for you in terms of work since everyone was forced indoors due to COVID-19?

One has had to re-align as this is a whole new experience. Technology has played a significant role and I have had to adapt. I have had to think of creative ways of keeping people motivated and positive.

What is your advice to everyone living and working in a time of COVID-19?

Guys, it is everyone’s responsibility, in this time, to do the right thing – social distancing, washing hands, wearing the latest fashion (face masks). If each person does their bit, we will have attained success.

Where does your passion for netball come from?

Seeing children having fun. I was never really a netball fan until I started my teaching career at Benoni High and my principal told me to do netball – I had to learn and grow into the game.

“There are no explanations but when netball gets into your blood, it makes you alive. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, the sharing of excellence or merely the feeling of belonging to a wonderful enormous family.” – South African Schools Netball President, Di Woolley

After that, and I cannot tell you exactly what it is, but the bug bit me and my love grew. There are no explanations but when netball gets into your blood, it makes you alive. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, the sharing of excellence or merely the feeling of belonging to a wonderful enormous family.

Please tell us about your journey in sport.

When I was young, I contracted Rheumatic fever and was not permitted to participate in sport as I had a heart defect after recovering from the fever. My dad played golf and I spent a lot of time outdoors watching him. We spent hours listening to the radio when there was sport on.

When I got to secondary school, I told my parents I don’t care about the effects on my health and started doing sport. My great passion was athletics in which I excelled going to nationals, in long jump, 400m and 800m.

I played hockey and cricket (with the boys). At varsity I played provincial cricket and formed part of the team that played the rebel team from the UK, the Unicorns. I later went on to play provincial volleyball and football.

I studied Physical Education and lived my love for sport as a Phys Ed teacher, coaching from gymnastics to softball to you name it! One day my netball players asked me to go to the netball trials with them. What I encountered made my hair rise as they requested all those who played provincial the previous year to sit one side and then only had trials for the remaining positions. When I queried this, I was told if I want to change anything I must get onto the committee.

The next year I did and that’s where my journey as an administrator, coach, manager and umpire started and that’s where I am today, still fighting for the rights of educators and children.

What did it mean to you to become President of South African Schools Netball?

A lot of extra work but a very satisfying part of my life. For me, the rights of children, of all walks of life, is important and I will continue to fight for fairness and equal opportunity.

“President is but a title, I am just an ordinary lady trying to achieve something extraordinary in our world today.” – Woolley speaks on becoming President on SASN.

President is but a title, I am just an ordinary lady trying to achieve something extraordinary in our world today. This also opened many doors for making the most wonderful international friends and to share all their experience. It also opened the doors into Africa as I served as the Commissioner for Netball on the Zone 6 COSASSA committee.

Was it in your plans to rise up as high as you have in sports administration in South Africa?

No, I never even thought of it until the change in our country. Pre-elections I was asked to get involved with unity talks, as I was one of the few who had a command of English. I served both athletics and netball but had to exercise a choice and I chose netball because I thought I could make a difference.

What is it like championing women’s sport and women empowerment?

Great – for as long as I can remember women were seen and not heard, now we have a voice and women are making their mark. It is a heart-warming knowledge that I have, to know women also can.

What is the biggest women’s sport highlight you have been a part of in SA?

The All Africa Games, the All Ages Schools’ Netball Tournament, the National Schools’ Championships, National Netball League, and International Netball here in SA.

What challenges have you faced as woman in sports administration and how have you overcome these?

“Gently through example I do believe I changed that perception.” – Woolley believes that she has changed men’s perception that women know and can achieve nothing.

The men had a perception that women knew nothing and could not achieve anything, but gently through example I do believe I changed that perception. I have never run away from work and taking a stand.

Why do you think it is tough for women to rise in sport administration board rooms, with only a handful in key positions in South Africa?

Mostly because they do not believe in themselves.

What is the state of netball locally and how can we change the game for more South Africans to support our netballers?

Netball is alive and growing. I am of the opinion with all the coverage we are receiving now it will get better. We do, however, need to have a IN YOUR FACE brand awareness campaign 24/7.

What plans are being put in place to ensure that the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town will be a success?

NSA is in the process of appointing an event manager and from there the LOC will be put in place. The media will have to put in a lot of effort as well.

Who are the women who inspire you?

Kass Naidoo, Mother Theresa, Lindsay Wright (Hockey Capt), Vannes-Mari du Toit-Proudfoot, and Katy Katapodis (journalist).

What is your advice to women who want to advance in sports admin?

Go out there and grasp the opportunities that are given to you. Never let anyone tell you are not good enough. Each person has been given the potential to rise to greatness, you must just decide what your greatness is destined to be.

What do you still hope to do to contribute to netball in South Africa?

To see that the “win at all costs” is taken out of school sport, especially in the Primary schools, to see all children everywhere off the street and playing an to provide opportunities of growth for those who are willing to venture into the unknown and rise to greatness.

 

 

 

Photo 1 Caption: Di Woolley has steadily built a credible portfolio of work that has seen her rise up to become President of South African Schools Netball. Woolley, who worked as a physical educator at Benoni High, where she coached everything but netball, was told by her principal to lead the netball team and since then she has never looked back. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Woolley voiced her opinions on the unfairness of the decisions that were being taken, so the following year she joined the committee as it was the only way that she could make changes. From there, her journey as an administrator, coach, manager and umpire started and today, she is still fighting for the rights of educators and children. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: Woolley has always fought for what she believed in and her passion for sports has no limits. Growing up, she contracted Rheumatic fever which left her with a heart defect, permitting her against playing sports. However, while in secondary school, she chose to do otherwise. She ran athletics at national level as well as long jump, played hockey and provincial cricket at university. Later she went on to play provincial volleyball and football. Photo: Supplied