Meet one of the unsung heroes putting the fire into Fireflys
She's been one of the driving forces behind Fareham Fireflys over the past couple of years, writes Helen Dunning.
With her help, the club has blossomed into a large, participant-based, friendly outfit – with performance teams for the more serious player.
Charlotte Ward truly is one of the unsung heroes of the netball court.
Having started playing for the Fireflys at the age of 12, two years later she picked up the whistle and began umpiring before embarking on a coaching career at 16.
Taking her hobby seriously after college, Ward then studied for a degree in sports coaching and development at university.
It was during this time she got her first taste of coaching a performance squad – at Itchen College.
Enjoying the more competitive side of training, Ward took her ideas back to the Fareham club and began to put a plan in place for the future of performance teams within Fireflys set-up.
At the same time, participation numbers were booming.
Able to thrive and grow at a different pace, the club now boasts 14 age-group teams playing in Fareham’s All About Netball Junior League.
Any girl of any standard is encouraged in the many training sessions across the week at Fireflys.
And each and every one will have a place on a team if they so wish.
Ward is now a maths teacher in Eastleigh but continues to coach several of the Fareham outfit’s youth teams.
The club has 20 junior sides in total and they compete all across Hampshire and the surrounding counties in various leagues – from local to regional level.
Ward said: ‘The under-14 regional development team has had a tough start but are continuing to grow in only their second season.
‘Unfortunately, they also incurred a number of injuries early in the season.
‘The under-16 regional development team are also growing in skill and experience.
‘They are currently sitting in second place in their first season at regional level and I’m very proud of their hard work and commitment.
‘This season the girls only lost one game by a very small six-goal margin and are hungry for the rest of the season where they will take on the best clubs the south region has to offer.
‘The core of the girls have been together since they started at Fireflys six years ago and have shown such passion and determination ever since.’
The Fireflys growth has not been restricted to the junior scene.
Mums watching their daughters and fancying their chances on the court are now playing – with a new, very successful Back to Netball session being started on a Tuesday night at Fareham College for this purpose.
Other juniors have grown up and now play in adult competitions, while word gets out Fireflys are very much open for business.
Ward, staying within the performance set-up at Fireflys, also coaches three adult teams – Fireflys Gold, Fireflys Silver and Fireflys Lilac.
In only their second season, unbeaten Gold currently sit top of Gosport & Fareham League division two and will be promoted.
Silver are mid-table in division three at the end of their first campaign, while the youngsters of Lilac are unbeaten at the summit of All About Netball League division two.
Ward’s boundless energy has also left her plotting the introduction of an under-19 regional team.
She added: ‘Watching these shy nine-year-olds learning the basic, fundamental rules and skills has been a pleasure.
‘Seeing them pick up, execute them in game play and then taking them all the way to regional and even adult teams is great.
‘Watching them become confident leaders and captains on court has been amazing to see.
‘They are some of the main reasons I love to coach and obviously why I don’t have spare time!
‘Cold, wet nights and days at weekends which are taken up with tournaments are all easy when you’ve watched these girls’ netball and confidence develop.’
Ward could not do it alone, though, and has a huge amount of help at the club.
That’s before you consider the many parents, who initially taxi the girls around and fund their netball before taking on roles such as team manager, first aider or safeguarding officer.
Some even go on to umpire, coach, fundraise and even sit on the committee.
Alongside Ward, Fireflys’ band of talented coaches includes Sarah Blackmore, Sharon Merrikin, Kelly Wallis, Melissa Williams and CJ Brown.
Merrikin and Blackmore are vastly experienced and have been with the club for many years, while Williams doubles as Fireflys chairperson.
Ward said: ‘All of the Fireflys coaches have really helped things go well over the past few seasons.
‘We have completely changed the way the club is run and this doesn’t come without huge efforts behind the scenes.
‘They are also fabulous at running with my crazy ideas – no matter how big or small.’