As part of the 50-year celebrations of the Cockburn Basketball Association, we take a look at the contributions made by the Della family – though the eyes of 2016 championship hero Rhett.
Cockburn has been a very big part of our family’s life growing up.
Many of my childhood memories are from Wally Hagan Stadium one way or another, like a lot of families spending many many hours watching/playing/training/ either your own or siblings games.
Both parents (Maureen and Ernie) and my three brothers (Jamie, Brendon, Dane) all played junior basketball down there just as my nieces and nephews do now, and just like my four children will too.
Our associate with basketball started back in 1977 when Mum was playing at Bakers Square for the Sonics, while Dad joined a year later in 1978 playing for his team ‘Phoenix’.
Dad’s team was named after the Phoenix Tavern (just up the road from the current stadium on Rockingham Road, but now demolished), they were all mates from the local pub who after a couple beers one day thought it would be a good idea to enter a team into the local competition.
They all took it very seriously and found themselves a coach (likely the bar tender) and then even put in a few months of training to ensure they were ready.
So after a solid training block they were all set for their first official game, however it seems the competition was a little underrated, or maybe they overrated themselves, either way they ended up losing that first game by over 80 points. The coach quit that night on the spot.
That team had a core group of guys who stayed together for over a decade and actually won a championship about 10 years later.
Things were fair to say a little different back then, Dad remembers playing with ash trays under the benches, players would have a smoke on the bench at half-time, while others didn’t wait that long and the substitute would light up a ciggie on the bench.
When the rule changes came in to ban the smoking, Bert De Meyere used to turn a blind eye for them for a while.
Dad was a late starter in basketball terms, not playing his first game until he was 28 years old.
He actually started up a vets competition in in late 90s, with two original teams named Dockers and Eagles playing on Tuesday nights.
The vets comp still runs on a Tuesday to this day.
Dad was playing when Wally Hagan opened its doors and continues to play to this very day, so after some quick maths he would have played over 2400 games at Cockburn by now.
That must be a record untouched!
He used to tell me he would retire when he goes a whole game without scoring, that’s slightly altered over the last few years and it’s now he will retire when they close the bar upstairs!
Dad and his great mate Bob Austin also opened up the famous Bob and Ernie’s ‘Alley-Oop’ Card Shop. There was a lot of funny stories from there, from the young kids trying to rip off Bob and Dad who really had no idea at the start what they were doing trading cards.
The kids would get quite clever and a few would turn off the power why their mates hands went sliding around the corner picking all the cards from the cabinet.
Mum founded Coogee Basketball Club in 1988, and was its inaugural president.
Coogee was based on the foundations of Coogee Primary School, where us four kids all went to school.
During its peak they would have had 40 teams in the 90s.
She has been on and remains on the Coogee Committee for over 30 years, and has coached various teams for Coogee over the decades and to this day still enjoys coaching teams, including her granddaughters team.
Mum also was on Cockburn’s Board Committee carrying out the role of WABL director for a period of time.
All my brothers have played down Cockburn since U/10s and even earlier in some cases, I think Brendon was playing at six years of age in under/10s and I think/still think he was the most talented of the four brothers.
We have played many games where all four of us brothers have played in the same team, and very soon Jamie’s oldest Domenic will join us and put a starting five together.
I remember when we were u/14 and playing games at 10.10pm on Friday night, crazy that 12/13 year olds used to play at that time.
For our family Friday night was always basketball, a can of soft drink of your choosing after the game, then quarter chicken and chips on the way home.
I remember once when our younger Brother Dane was left at the stadium on a Friday night, this was before the days of mobile phones, so we got home only to get a call asking if we had forgot something (the extra chicken pack should have given it away).
But then Mum and Dad had to race back and grab him, he was quite happy sitting in the canteen eating lollies.
As much as the good times I had as a kid at the stadium, they got so much better as I got older.
I remember every weekend we would head down to watch the SBL teams, watching Al Erickson/Troy Clarke and Kelly Huston do their business.
The SBL grand final back then was replayed on free to air which was a really big deal at the time.
After watching the Grand Final we would race home to watch the replay and try see ourselves on the TV.
We were all there live watching on in awe when Cougars won the 1992 and 1994 championships, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be there 20 plus years later and doing the exact same thing!
I was bit of a late starter and didn’t play SBL to 2003, but certainly we had a lot of success without ultimately getting the grand prize. Looking back now in my first 170 games for Cougars we didn’t have a season finish worse than Semi Finals, was an incredible successful era.
I actually never missed finals whilst wearing a Cougars jersey, which shows how talented the squads were over a large period of time.
I also had the absolute honour of being named Cockburn’s Men’s MVP in seasons 2005 and 2006, with the absolute highlight of my playing career coming in 2016 by finally securing the long eluded SBL Championship.