Jan 24 2013 by Ian Proctor, Harrow Observer
IMAGINE a sport combining athleticism, teamwork, hand-eye coordination, a unique set of tactics and rules – and both men and women.
That sport is korfball, similar to basketball and netball in that players aim to pass the ball around and eventually throw it through an elevated plastic hoop on a pole to score a point, the main difference being the hoop is situated in the pitch, rather than at either end.
The hoops were originally wicker baskets, with ‘basket’ meaning ‘korf’ in Dutch, the country from where the pastime originates.
And it is catching on in Harrow at an incredible speed.
Pioneering interest in the activity is local team Harrow Vultrix, which was set up in 2010 by Dutchman Max Buttinger, who played for England in the late 1970s and early 1980s, like his wife Penny.
Both turn out for the club alongside their daughter.
Bernie Holman, fixtures secretary, said: “Max has got loads of experience and we have got a few more players to come out of retirement and play another match, which also encourages children.”
Karen Tighe, the club’s marketing and press manager, said: “We have improved so much, particularly the young players.
“My son, Marcus, is 14 and has been called up to the England under-16 squad.”
Harrow Vultrix has two adult teams and play their matches at Harrow Leisure Centre, in Christchurch Avenue, Wealdstone.
Using grants from Sport England and the Mayor of London’s Free Sport fund, it has introduced the sport into primary schools and, later this year, the borough’s high schools.
The first team are unbeaten at the top of South Midlands League II and on Sunday won against higher ranked Bristol Thunder in the National Cup Competition, to advance to the quarter-finals.
However, the composition of the squad from mostly veterans and schoolchildren – the club needed special dispensation from the league to field so many youngsters – means they could do with more 18 to 35-year-olds to swell the ranks.
Mrs Tighe said: “It’s the same rules as netball and basketball. You can’t travel and it’s non-contact, although there’s a little bit of contact, naturally.
“It’s not as aggressive, but it’s just as competitive.
“You can score from 360 degrees around the basket. It’s different because rebounds can go anywhere.
“Girls can only mark girls and boys can only mark boys and you can’t shoot if you’re being defended – if an attacker has a defender between them and the basket, within touching distance and facing them.
“It’s quite fast paced and you need to be able to jump. You need footwork similar to fencing to shuffle backwards and forwards while defending.
“Unlike netball or basketball, there’s no fixed positions, so you need to be able to attack and defend.”
The team practises on Saturdays, between 5pm and 7pm, with junior sessions happening simultaneously.
“We practise free passes, penalties and set plays, and some fitness drills,” said Mrs Tighe. “You take penalties underarm for stability and accuracy and there’s a special technique the coaches teach which we call ‘dunk-dunk-Gazelle’, which is a little hop-throw.
“If you are really good, like Max and Penny, you can get away with not being as athletic because you play more strategically, drawing fouls from opponents and feeding the ball quickly to one another in and around the basket.
“In the next round of the National Cup, there’s going to be a 24-second shot clock, which we’ve never played with before and will need to start training with to get used to it – not that we dwell on or hold up the ball, but it will be a good test of discipline for the youngsters.”
Korfball is unusual because it is played by mixed teams of eight on an extra long court which creates a unique situation in that points can be scored from any direction, even behind the basket.
Each team fields two women and two men in each half, or division, of the court and they are restricted to that half.
However, every two points all players switch halves, meaning the attacking four become the defending four and vice versa.
Mrs Tighe said: “It is a minority sport, but it’s played in 54 countries and it’s very big in China, Taiwan, and the Benelux countries, because it came from them.
“It’s a very social sport and it’s an ideal sport for schools.
“We are competing with established sports like football, cricket and netball, but going into primary schools is good because we get their attention while they are young and hopefully they’ll keep it up.
“All of the under-16 players are qualified coaches and they help out in the primary schools.”
Mr Buttinger first introduced the sport to pupils at Marlborough Primary School in Marlborough Hill, Harrow, where he is a governor.
He was able to use the aforementioned funding to roll out a series of PE lessons and after school clubs at other primary schools.
Harrow High School, in Gayton Road, Harrow, has even adopted the sport into its PE curriculum.
Teachers find the mixed gender element of the sport particularly refreshing and it creates a dynamic interaction between the sexes that is rarely seen, with girls sometimes teasing boys with the ball because they know they cannot be touched or marked.
Mr Buttinger said: “We have six school tournaments a year but not a league. We have 80 kids in each tournament and every time we invite a different batch of schools.
“We have Cedars Youth and Community Centre setting up a club and we have got a club in West Harrow coming together.
“We want to set up clubs in the east, north and south so we have six – enough for a local league.
“We set up a Brunel University club and we are just setting up a University of Westminster one this term, and in five high schools.
“It is our group of people reaching out. People are starting to come out of the woodwork.”
Mrs Tighe said: “If parents want to start playing a sport, they should consider korfball.
“Their children can play with the juniors and on the next court they can play with the adults.
“Nobody is left out during the game because everyone gets to play everywhere.”
■ See page 57 for the match report of Harrow Vultrix’s cup tie against Bristol Thunder and for more information on joining Harrow Vultrix, e-mail email@example.com.