Every so often life throws you a welcome curve ball.
For David “Charlie” Whetu that came earlier this year when he was named Best Coach in the 2017 Clubbies Awards.
Whetu has coached softball for more than 35 years, working at the highest levels of the sport, including assistant to the 1996 Australian Olympic team.
At Grays Point Arrows Softball Club – where he can often be found four or more days a week – he’s something of a local legend.
It doesn’t hurt that at 67 he can still turn heads with his batting and pitching prowess.
“I probably can’t run as fast as the young ones but I still demonstrate a lot of the skills – I think a lot of the young ones are quite surprised at how far I can hit a ball,” Whetu laughs.
“And I still pitch the ball really well. A lot of my students – and I’m talking about Australian players – still let out a bit of a ‘wow’ when I pitch the ball and I spin it.”
At Southern Metropolitan Softball Academy in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire he’s honing the skills of future national pitchers and catchers.
He prefers working with players aged up to the age of 15.
“There’s a lot more that I have to be involved in with the youngsters, a lot more basic skills – you have to go back to real beginner coaching,” he says.
“Also it’s a much better age group to teach them about respect – of the game, the opposition and their teammates.”
Softball numbers have dropped, particularly among girls, where former male-dominated sports such as football and cricket proved attractive. But Whetu sees promising signs of a turnaround. Interstate softball comps are kicking off “in a big way” and softball is back on the Olympic program.
For the grandfather of three there’s an even bigger lure.
“It’s probably the only true family sport where grandchildren can play with their grandparents,” he says. “I think that’s the exciting part about it, I can still play with my grandsons.”
MAIN PHOTO: Whetu presented with Best Coach Clubbie Award