With the Olympics done and done dusted for another four years, we are resuming our Legends of Sports series, a celebration of the hardworking people who make sport happen in Southland. Don Wright talks to ‘Mrs Softball', Elaine Karsten.
One way or another, Elaine Karsten has been associated with softball for 58 years - first as a player and now as an administrator and official.
At least 90 per cent of her vast contribution to the sport has been in a voluntary role, before the New Zealand association became professional 12 years ago.
Her lengthy association with softball has included positions and duties as a player, secretary, treasurer, The Southland Times softball writer for 16 years, president, chairwoman of the Southland Softball Association, member of the New Zealand Junior Advisory Board and national umpire and scorer.
“I have a special love of tournaments that can take you all over the country and I enjoy meeting and communicating with the countless good people who share my love of softball," Karsten said.
Many Southland softball enthusiasts have spoken of her unstinting devotion to the sport, including the game's southern identities Karen and Colin Telfer, who jointly highlighted her ability as “a well-organised administrator who has kept matters running smoothly".
Karen Telfer said, “I've known Elaine [for] at least 35 years in softball and, in that time, I have enjoyed managing teams. "If I was ever in doubt on any issue, my first port of call was to ring her and she would quickly point me in the right direction."
Invercargill's Bridget Cullen, another close softball associate, reflected warmly on her background with Karsten.
“The last time I played softball with her for Marist was in 1971-72, when we were the winners of the Edith Wilson Cup and the President's Rosebowl," she said.
“That season her husband, Don, was our assistant coach to the main coach, Graham Latta."
Southland's leading lady of softball has been strongly supported by her similarly prominent husband, whose list of achievements and distinctions is also long and includes a Softball New Zealand Distinguished Service Award in 1985.
He has a New Zealand Softball Scorers badge, a New Zealand Junior Advisory Board appointment and he was one of the board members to introduce the secondary schools tournaments.
The Karstens recently returned from a 12-day holiday, purely as visitors at their own expense, to the Women's World Series in Whitehorse, Canada, which was won by Japan over the defending champions, the United States.
New Zealand finished 10th of 16 countries.
"The final was an eye-opener to us because of the very high standard on display," Elaine said.
"The quality of play was the highest overall that I've seen from women."
Australia and Canada were the other semifinalists of an intriguing world series, she said.
“Roughly half of the recently selected New Zealand Junior White Sox team represented the country in Canada, meaning that the experience at a higher level should later pay dividends."
Karsten traces her background in softball to humble origins, playing rounders with a tennis racquet and ball at St Theresa's School, in King St, Invercargill, before playing softball for St Mary's and representing Southland as a second-baser.
Gaynor Bridgeman was another fellow representative softball player whom she fondly recalled.
Karsten's undoubted highlights of a distinguished career in softball were being selected to officiate as an umpire at the World Women's Series in Auckland (1986) and as a scorer at the 2004 Men's World Series in Christchurch.
No lifelong love of any sport was without disappointments, she said. From where she stood, the drop in playing numbers was a concern but had been arrested with a slight increase in the past two years.
Three top Southland clubs had said they could have taken on more players but there had not been enough coaches to absorb that potential influx.
“Simply, an increased number of coaches that could be attracted to softball would result in more participating players."
It could never be said she was only a softball specialist.
Southland's famous netball sisters of yesteryear, Monica and Cecilia Fahey, “took me under their wing" while she played for St Mary's and Southland during the "wonderful" 1960s era.
The Karstens' three sons share their parents' love of softball and other recreational activities. Michael, a Qantas pilot in Perth, Paul, a KiwiRail employee in Wellington, and Andrew, a police officer in Invercargill, have added to the family's record on the softball diamond.
Elaine's grandson, Daniel, a Verdon College pupil, is carrying on the family's sporting name as a school basketball enthusiast and plays senior softball for Demons with his father, Andrew.
- © Fairfax NZ News