Court side icon’s name etched among the greats

Joyce Walsh has given over 50 years of service to netball. Photo: Supplied
Joyce Walsh has given over 50 years of service to netball. Photo: Supplied
Two years ago Joyce Walsh’s heart stopped beating for 33 minutes and she spent 66 days in hospital then had to learn to walk again. Jaime Cunningham talks to the netball stalwart who has been recognised with a Netball New Zealand service award.

Joyce Walsh’s name now sits alongside the likes of Dame Noeline Taurua, Laura Langman and Adine Wilson.

But unlike some who appear on the list of Netball New Zealand service award recipients, she never wore a Silver Ferns uniform or coached the national side.

The Cantabrian has instead contributed 50 years to the sport in other ways. She has played and coached, umpired and coached umpires – and been a national bench official, scoring games and keeping time.

Joyce, 80, says her first involvement with netball, outside of playing, started in about 1971, when she was living in Palmerston North with her young family.

“I started coaching after our son had started primary school. We knew very little people in the area and I saw the school’s newsletter asking for a netball coach,” she said.

The team Joyce took over won their end-of-season tournament – and she still remembers being asked how she coached the players so well.

However, her coaching stint didn’t last long as she considered umpiring to be “far more important.”

Joyce Walsh's umpire photo, which sits in the Christchurch Netball Centre's umpire room at Hagley...
Joyce Walsh's umpire photo, which sits in the Christchurch Netball Centre's umpire room at Hagley Park. Photo: Supplied
Joyce gained her New Zealand umpiring badge in 1980 and moved back to Christchurch that same year. She lived at the Burnham Military Camp while her husband was in the army, and began working at Christchurch Netball Centre.

“I used to spend five out of seven days at Hagley Park. If it wasn’t a meeting, it was umpiring. If it wasn’t that it was something else,” she said.

In 1992, she gave up umpiring due to an injury but continued to be involved with netball, marking theory papers and coaching junior umpires.

Joyce then began scoring and timekeeping at Christchurch Netball Centre, which she “quite enjoyed.” 

She eventually became a national bench official in 2004 and was involved in national tournaments across the country.

“In those days, we didn’t have remote controls to buzz (for the end of a quarter), you had to chase the umpires,” she said.

Her highlight as a bench official was when Auckland hosted the 2007 Netball World Cup. Joyce said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be involved.

“For 10 days, we were at the court at 8am and didn’t finish up until 9.30pm. Unfortunately, New Zealand couldn’t beat Australia in the final (losing 38-42), but that was my highlight of my benching,” she said.

After 16 years’ volunteering at national and age-group tournaments, Joyce’s netball ambitions had to be put on hold in 2020 when her heart abruptly stopped.

“I had to get taught to walk again. I wanted to go back to netball but my brain couldn’t work fast enough,” she said.

“I haven’t been back to netball in two years now, and I miss it so much. Apart from that, I’m living my life,” Joyce said.

But the sport came back into  her life last month, when a surprise call from her daughter revealed Joyce she had been acknowledged in Netball New Zealand’s 2023 service awards.

“I had a tear or two when I found out, and it took a day or so to sink in. To me, it’s the real pinnacle of what I’ve done for all those years,” she said. “All in all, netball has been my life for a long time.”

Megan McLay. Photo: Christchurch Netball Centre
Megan McLay. Photo: Christchurch Netball Centre
Megan McLay, a former manager at Christchurch Netball Centre, said Joyce has given a lot to netball in Canterbury.

“She has given a huge portion of her life and her passion to netball. The netball community as a whole has benefitted greatly from her dedication and we remain grateful for her involvement in our sport,” McLay said.

Joyce has been a delight to work alongside and her years as an umpire coach had helped bring through some quality umpires at the centre, McLay said.

“She has always been prepared to fill in for others and to take on more than her share of bench duties, to assist in the office or to go out on the courts to support umpires if they are struggling with on-court play or sideline behaviour,” McLay said.

Joyce will be presented with her service award at the Christchurch Netball Centre annual meeting on Monday.

2023 NNZ service awards: 

•Kate Agnew – NNZ (Netball South Canterbury Endorsed).

•Julie Bennett - Auckland Netball Centre.

•Barbara Bialy - Netball Hutt Valley.

•Mary-Rose Cullen- Invercargill Netball Centre.

•Leana de Bruin - NNZ (Rotorua Netball Centre Endorsed).

•Gareth Fowler - NNZ (Netball Central Zone Endorsed).

•Debbie Fuller - NNZ (Tauranga Netball Centre Endorsed).

•Laura Langman - NNZ (Te Awamutu Netball Centre Endorsed).

•Leah Lazarus - Netball North Harbour.

•Kirsten Lloyd - Netball Wellington Centre.

•Murray Lockwood - Netball Northern Zone (Papakura Netball Centre Endorsed).

•Maree McMillan - Invercargill Netball Centre.

•Nicki Paterson - Dunedin Netball Centre.

•Kristie Simpson - NNZ (Netball South Zone Endorsed).

•Noeline Taurua - NNZ (Tauranga Netball Centre Endorsed).

•Joyce Walsh - Christchurch Netball Centre.

•Adine Wilson - Auckland Netball Centre.

•Lyn Wilson - Dunedin Netball Centre.