The founder of the Pioneer Basketball Club in Christchurch was driven by her love of the game and her passion for seeing young people get involved in the sport
Paula Wilkinson grew up in Melbourne and was hooked on basketball from a young age. After she met and married her Kiwi husband they settled in Diamond Harbour. “Basketball was just in its infancy here, but there was so much potential so I decided to put a team together.” The first girls she discovered were two, tall, athletic sisters. “I looked at them and thought they would make great basketball players, they just didn’t know it. They both actually went on and represented New Zealand.”
The girls were Gina and Sally Farmer who played for New Zealand at two Olympic Games. Wilkinson formed the Mount Herbert Basketball Club in Diamond Harbour and began taking teams to play at Pioneer Stadium. “For these primary school kids they loved it, it was the highlight of their week.”
As a fundraiser for the Mount Herbert Club Wilkinson started running the competition at Pioneer for the council.
It was there that she really saw the sport grow. After her children moved on to High School Wilkinson left the Mount Herbert Club. With the support of then Pioneer manager Ian Whitehead, she began the process of setting up Pioneer Basketball Club in the mid 1990’s.
“It got to the point where it was too much for one person and I needed some help. Someone suggested I contact Sport Canterbury, that was the best thing I ever did, they were amazing.
“From there Pioneer Basketball Club became an incorporated society, establishing a committee and taking on staff, in the form of Basketball development officer Connie Dick.
“Connie was just young at the time but I saw something in her, I knew she had the right stuff. She handled the draws and the competitions and it worked really well.”
Wilkinson said the club continued to grow and enjoyed great success, with Dick in the role for two years before going on her OE. Then the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes hit.
“Pioneer became a Civil Defence base for the community and it certainly needed to be. But as soon as we were able to get up and running I said to our team we had to get kids back on those courts they needed the routine and the positivity and so did their parents.
“I remember seeing the positive affect it had on families. Those kids were suffering and their parents were stressed and being able to get back into basketball really helped.”
As well as the Farmer sisters the club has had other successful players over the years including Tall Black Ethan Rusbatch. “We have also produced a lot of top New Zealand Basketball referees out of this club and I’m really proud of that. We encourage kids as young as 9 or 10 to get involved in refereeing and mentor them.”
Connie Dick who has returned to her role as development officer at Pioneer, said the programmes they offer continue to be successful – for some of their midweek hoop programmes there are waiting lists. Wilkinson said if they could double the number of court space available they could easily double their programmes there is that much demand.
Although her role is entirely voluntary the life member and and now patron estimates she still dedicates about 40 hours a week to the sport and her role at the club. “I love it. Being a part of something so positive and being out on the court with the kids is just the best feeling.”
Wilkinson still referees and plays midweek in the same team as her daughter. She has a goal in mind before she’s prepared to retire. “I want to play three generations on the court: My Granddaughter is 7 now and they say kids can play with adults when they are 12, so that’s what I’m going to hold out for.
“I’ll be in my 70’s but that’s my aim.”
Thanks to #WeAreCanterbury for providing the article