All abilities netball player brings out finals ball at Australian Netball Championships in Traralgon

Moments before the Australian Netball Championships’ gold medal match, tensions were high but for Damian Midwinter it was an exciting opportunity.

He had been invited by Netball Victoria to bring out the game ball for the final match of the tournament, which brought the nation’s top netball players to Traralgon in the Latrobe Valley at the weekend.

Mr Midwinter has played in Leongatha’s all abilities netball league for around eight years.

But the 28-year-old from Foster is unsure how much longer he will be able to take part in the sport he loves, as a condition called retinal dystrophy is causing him to lose his eyesight.

“I’ve lost vision in one eye, I can only see shadows and the other eye’s doing all the work at the moment,” he said.

The tournament, won by Southern Force in the final match against Victorian Fury, has been a highlight of Mr Midwinter’s involvement with netball.

Determination to play the sport for as long as he can, his condition has not stopped him from making the trip to the Leongatha courts every Saturday.

Dedication despite challenges
He said it was easiest to see on overcast days but difficult when the sun came out.

“I could be doing a netball drill, and I could get halfway around and then cop the sun and I can’t see the ball at all,” Mr Midwinter said.

“I use the ball to block the sun out sometimes so I can see.”

He has already represented Gippsland at the netball state titles and is waiting to hear if he made the team this year.

Mr Midwinter’s mother, Monica Midwinter, said she was thrilled he was given the opportunity to bring out the finals ball.

“It’s fantastic to have something to cheer him up,” she said.

She said it had been a tough time for her son recently, with the rapid deterioration of his sight forcing him to give up his job.

“Thank you to everyone that made [the event] possible because he’s overjoyed and ecstatic with himself and so am I,” she said.

Ms Midwinter said it was great to see him enjoying the sport.

“He goes down to the Foster courts during the weekend, puts all these cones out and practises there by himself. He does a good job,” she said.

Hopes to expand league
Leongatha District Netball Association president Emma Smith said she was overwhelmed when she found out Mr Midwinter was going to carry out the game ball.

“I cried and I think when I told Monica and Damian about it, I cried as well, it’s such a kind gesture [from Netball Victoria],” she said.

She said Mr Midwinter had been dedicated to netball since he started the program.

“You ask him to practise [a] specific skill and he’ll go home and practise it — he takes his little cones out … and shoots from each position,” Ms Smith said.

The league has begun using yellow and orange balls to help people with limited eyesight and is hoping to get a ball that rattles to ensure Mr Midwinter can play the sport for as long as possible.

“Hopefully he can be involved in other capacities like team manager, and even helping out with coaching a little bit,” Ms Smith said.

“We haven’t expected his eyesight to deteriorate so rapidly but we’d love to keep [him] involved in the association.”

Currently, there are about 14 players in the all abilities program, ranging from late teens to mid-thirties.

“We’re trying to encourage more [people of] all abilities to join our associations and by doing that we’ll be able to hopefully hold a competition better [suited] for them in the future,” Ms Smith said.

“We just want to have everyone involved, we don’t want to exclude anybody from our competition.”