This month teams from across Australia competed for the 2019 Marie Little Shield (MLS) including the Queensland Gems lead by Bribie Island local Carla Nitz.
Ahead of the competition, I sat down with Carla for an interview to delve into her history in competitive sports. We discussed her anticipation for the upcoming competition, which would be her final as she is retiring from competitive netball after MLS.
Carla, dubbed Captain Courageous by her teammates, started playing netball when she was 15 years old. Her history with the sport started whilst she was attending Mt Gravatt Special School. She noticed a sign outside a shop that said ‘Netball for Intellectually Disabled, phone this number’ and that was the start of her long career culminating in the captaining of the Gems.
Playing in a team of disabled girls at Metropolitan Districts netball courts to start, Carla was selected in 1986 to play for Queensland in the Dunlop National Netball Carnival for disabled players.
During the seven years for which she played with the Queensland team, Carla captained the team for the 1988 and 1989 competitions.
Playing for Queensland meant Carla was given the opportunity to travel all around Australia. She’s been to every State and Territory except for the Northern Territory.
“They didn’t have a team at the time,” Carla said before going on to explain that the NT have had a team for the last few years competing at MLS.
Having always been an active individual Carla has enjoyed netball along with other sports for most of her life.
On the topic of other sports, Carla said “I did athletics, basketball for three years. Athletics when I was doing netball, so it was a busy time when I was sixteen.”
In 1989 parallel to her netball activities Carla was competing as an athlete on the international level when she was chosen to represent Australia at the International Federation for Intellectual Impairment Sport: Global Games (INAS Games).
Carla said, recalling her time competing in athletics, “1989 I went to Sweden with the Australian team, I did athletics. I did the 100 (metre sprint), the 200 (metre sprint), the long jump, and the relay - and we won the relay, 4x100 (metre) relay.”
The trip to Sweden was Carla’s first overseas trip, and understandably her mother Christine remembers Carla having a lot of competing feelings.
“It was different because you’re representing your country,” Carla said.
When the Queensland state netball team for people with an intellectual disability was disbanded Carla stopped playing netball. In 2016 when Netball Queensland revived the state team to compete for the MLS Carla eagerly & happily put in her application to join.
She didn’t expect to be selected to play, thinking she’d merely be brought on for a consultancy role. However, she’s more than pleased, to have been chosen to play each year and to have the honour of captaining the team.
Talking with Carla and her mother, they tell me about the history of MLS which is named after Marie Little OAM for her contributions. Marie was a netballer who dedicated her life to supporting people with intellectual disabilities and the founder of Sport Inclusion Australia. Marie Little OAM passed away in 2014 and the MLS is named to honour and remember her efforts & contributions.
From small beginnings, in 2013 the MLS has now become a highlight feature of the annual Australia Post One Netball calendar. The event is one of several diversity and inclusion programs Netball Australia runs with their partner, Australia Post.
Carla has captained the Queensland Gems for MLS since its revival. She says it is a joy and one of her favourite parts of being involved with the sport of netball “Captaincy, being Captain, not just that but meeting different girls who are younger than I am. I just like it.”
As the captain of her team Carla, Captain Courageous, has been a role model for the younger girls to look up to. And with the younger players on the team, Carla is proud to boast the team is at the best it has ever been over the course of its four year history.
When it comes down to positions on the field she prefers playing the Goal Keeper or Goal Defence, though she recalls playing Centre back when she first started back in her school days at Mt Gravatt Special School.
On which position she plays these days, Carla said “mostly its Goal Keeper because I’m the oldest in the team and it’s just a little space of their own.”
This year’s MLS also holds a special meaning for Carla as the MLS is in Brisbane as well as the INAS Games for 2019. She made it a personal goal to make this year’s team, as it is also a celebration of 30 years since she first competed and won her gold medal at the INAS Games in Sweden.
To keep up her fitness level Carla has recently taken up walking netball here on Bribie Island. And even though she is retiring from competitive netball she fully intends to continue playing walking netball.
When she’s not keeping active Carla enjoys working on personal art projects. She loves using crayons and doing abstract art, her face breaks into a grin when she talks about art.
During our interview Carla expressed that she was just happy to compete and play with her team regardless of whether they won or lost, they would give it their all but at the end of the day, it wasn’t only about winning or losing.
Carla is thankful & appreciative for all the support the Bribie Island walking netball group has given her and for the hard work each individual member of the Queensland Gems team have put in to prepare for this year’s competition.
At this year’s MLS, Queensland finished in fourth place. The results saw South Australia claiming gold, Victoria silver and New South Wales bronze. It’s safe to say that QLD put their hearts and souls into the game.