Sheffield Hatters are back in WBBL after fundraising effort

Sometimes a club needs to flirt with extinction to realise just how much it means to people.

Vanessa Ellis: Long-time Sheffield Hatters head coach will rebuild the WBBL team.

Sheffield Hatters are a case in point. They had been in existence in women’s basketball for 59 years when the end almost came.

As the first ever women’s club in the country they had been pioneers, and through the decades established themselves as the most successful team in British women’s basketball.

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Players and coaches represented England and Great Britain, and they had a strong junior section as well.

Sheffield Hatters in the 1960s.

But all that counted for nothing a year ago when a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and an inability to raise the requisite funds to run a team in the Women’s British Basketball League, meant they had to withdraw.

“We did fear that this would be the end,” admits Vanessa Ellis, their long-time head coach, a member of the national coaching set-up and daughter of Betty Codona OBE, founder of the Hatters back in 1961.

But Codona and a small army of volunteers refused to let the club die and yesterday they announced they would be back in the WBBL for the 2021/22 season.

“My mum has really driven this,” Ellis said of Codona. “She was determined that we would have a team for our 60th year.

Sheffield Hatters coach Vanessa Ellis gives a team talk (Picture: Ian Anderson)

“There have been a lot of good people beside her that have helped her, a lot of volunteers giving their time to help us.

“It’s great to be back. We were determined to get a team up and running again.”

The primary reason they had to withdraw last year was money. Hatters needed £60,000 to run a team in the top tier of women’s basketball but sponsorship had run dry with the coronavirus pandemic reducing the amount of sponsorship opportunities there were.

So the Hatters had to get resourceful. The club, which is a registered charity, set up a calendar of fundraising events. They have just completed the ‘60th Anniversary Challenge’ which saw members complete various tasks and they continue to advertise for sponsorship.

Georgia Gayle of Sheffield Hatters (Picture: Ian Anderson)

“A lot of people have supported us,” continued Ellis.

“Sheffield Council are going to help us for the first time ever and we are hoping to get investment from local businesses as well.

“The £60,000 is not a lump sum, it’s just an amount we know we’ll need throughout the year.

“We’ve got a plan in place to get it with a fundraising dinner, sponsorship events etc. There’s a crowdfunding page as well.

“It’s been a tough year for the club but there have been a lot of positives that have come out of it.”

Codona added: “Sixty years, how time flies. They have been challenging, hard work, but full of wonderful people and experiences.

“It is important for the club, the city and for women’s basketball in general that we were in a position to compete in the WBBL again.”

Ellis will now assemble a squad by August with the intention of being ready for the 2021/22 season when it begins at the end of September.

“There’s a few players coming back and we’ve reached out to some other British players and imports,” said Ellis, who coached and won a title in Austria during the Hatters’ hiatus.

“The junior set-up has continued throughout, despite the difficulty in not being able to run sessions etc. It’s great to be getting women’s and girls’ basketball back up and running.”

If interested in supporting the Sheffield Hatters and the role models that the WBBL players provide in the local community, please contact [email protected]

Alternatively, you can support the Sheffield Hatters Crowdfunding page that launches this week, which is offering rewards such as family season ticket for just £60.