Smiling Tigers celebrate a golden anniversary

By Tyler Maher

Fifty of Rushworth’s finest basketballers and footballers of 1969 got together on Saturday to celebrate 50 years since winning multiple premierships in the Heathcote league.

The football club won twin flags with the under-15 team finishing third, while the basketball club took the A-grade pennant, with the B-graders finishing runners-up. (The name basketball was officially altered to netball in 1970).

After a minute’s silence to remember teammates who have passed on and with 1969 captain-coach Ian “Mick” McDonald and wife Marilyn as guests of honour, each of the returning stars was introduced and invited to share a memory of the successful season.

Basketballer Rosalie Harrap (nee Hawking) was a 14-year-old schoolgirl in 1969, winning the award for most improved A-grade player.

She recalled the severe and unfashionable length of her school uniform through the week, compared with the much-reduced length of her basketball uniform on Saturdays.

Pauline Perry (nee Wootton), just 17 in 1969, said: “I think we sneaked a swig of Cold Duck, instead of lemonade, after our basketball success.”

Rushworth reserves captain Les “Flash” Morgan recalled the great fun of his fourth flag in five seasons in the second team, disturbed only by a one-point loss in the grand final the previous season.

“We had no lights for training in those days, and some of us knew which corners of the oval were darker than others when the sprints came on,” Les said.

Reunion emcee, premiership player Noel Lloyd, welcomed old teammates Wes Risstrom, Ivan Baldwin and Mal McLeod, who had all played GVL football before the Tigers moved to the Heathcote league in 1965, each playing in that premiership, and getting their second in 1969.

Praised as one of the GV’s finest footballers and cricketers, McLeod deflected that comment.

“The only reason I got to enjoy a second premiership at Rushworth was that man over there,” he said pointing to coach McDonald.

The pair had been cricket opponents, with McDonald playing for Girgarre.

McLeod, 86, continues as curator of the town’s oval after an extraordinary time of close to 60 years.

Several players recalled incidents proving that when any rough stuff started, or needed finishing, Harry Hitchcock was always open for business.

Best-on-the-ground in the premiership win against Elmore, Ralph Barlow told of a Colbinabbin player warning Hitchcock not to touch his twin brother again, after a heavy “collision”.

Seeing the twin stretched out on the ground groaning, having lost all interest, Hitchcock had looked up and replied, “I don’t think I will need to!”

Hitchcock, declining to deny those charges, said: “If my presence gave a young Tiger player a bit more protection and confidence to play footy, I felt I had done my job.”

McDonald, who had won the Cheatley Medal for best-and-fairest in the Heathcote league in 1968, went on to win a flag with Kyabram in 1975.

He described his 1968 and 1969 seasons with the Tigers as “the warmest memories of my sporting life”.

In a superb speech, he made positive comments about each of the premiership players, all of whom were from Rushworth.

He warmly thanked the reunion organisers and emphasised the importance of these events, especially for players living away from the district.

A few copies of “Smiling Tigers!”, a commemorative booklet of the 1969 season, remain available. Phone Ross Williams on 0499 252 407.

- By Alan McLean