Reunion relives the magic of the Sting

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The excited Southern Sting crowd at ILT Stadium Southland during the netball team's champion 1998 to 2007 era. Photo: Supplied

NETBALL fans are being asked to delve deep into their closets and dust off their old Southern Sting memorabilia.

This weekend, a remarkable sporting team will highlight its pulling power 20 years on.

A reunion has been organised to mark 20 years since the formation of the Southern Sting in 1998 – a sports team which many say made Southlanders proud to be Southlanders again.

Sting fever took over the province during the special decade-long era when the Robyn Broughton-coached team won seven national netball titles in 10 years.

The Sting was disbanded in 2008 through the introduction of a new trans-Tasman netball league, with Southland and Otago uniting to form the Southern Steel.

As part of the reunion weekend many of the former Sting players will pull out their netball shoes and take to ILT Stadium Southland’s main court one more time. They will play Netball South’s Beko League team.

The Sting was the hottest ticket in town from 1998 to 2007.

It often prompted queues of people trying to get their hands on tickets when they first went on sale.

ILT Stadium Southland general manager Nigel Skelt said the response to this weekend’s reunion had highlighted just what a brilliant team Southland had in the Sting.

“It was a special time. I would turn up to work at 7am and be mobbed by queues of people wanting to get in to get their tickets,” he said about the Sting era.

“They are Southland’s most successful sporting team and it would be hard to see that [seven wins in 10 years] ever being matched again,” Mr Skelt said.

Sting paraphernalia was also in hot demand during the height of the netball success, with ILT Stadium Southland overrun by the Sting’s blue and green colours on game day.

Mr Skelt said the plan was for the stadium to take a trip down memory lane with fans urged to help ensure a sea of blue and green again featured for Saturday’s reunion game.

“I just hope the old Sting dresses and the other gear still fit after all these years,” he joked.

Organisers initially thought a crowd of about 500 might turn out for Saturday’s reunion game. However, it was now shaping as ILT Stadium Southland’s biggest event this year, in terms of spectator numbers.

Between 2300 and 2400 people are expected to attend the game, highlighting time had not washed away that Sting euphoria completely.

As of Wednesday morning just 400 tickets remained unsold, Mr Skelt said.

When the game was originally announced the plan was to collect a gold coin donation at the door. However, Mr Skelt said the extraordinary response had meant they needed to make it a ticketed event to avoid potential disappointment at the door through a sell out.

The game would also act as a fundraiser for the Tania Dalton Foundation.

It was the shock death of former Sting shooter Tania Dalton in March last year which prompted the reunion.

Donna Wilkins, a star Sting shooter during that era, has been the catalyst in organising the reunion.

“Rob (coach Robyn Broughton) and I have talked about a reunion for a long time to the point we even made a list of names. But I guess when we lost Tarns (Dalton) it was a reality check to get on with it,” Wilkins said.

“When Tarns came down to play for Sting, she really made Invercargill her home. She loved Southland and the people here so I hope the community come out in force to support this,” Wilkins said.

Just 42 players represented the Sting, with a large contingent set to gather in Invercargill for the reunion.

Among the players confirmed for the reunion are former internationals Wilkins, Bernice Mene, Lesley Rumball, Adine Wilson, Belinda Colling, Anna Galvan and Natalie Avellino.

Saturday’s game will start at 4.30pm.

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