Queen of courts keeps hundreds of balls in the air

BRIAR HUBBARD
Last updated 13:17 17/06/2014
Maree Bernasconi
BRIAR HUBBARD/Fairfax NZ
NETBALL: Maree Bernasconi has dedicated more than three decades to the Pukekohe Netball Centre, which has blossomed into a facility that Pukekohe can be proud of.

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She carefully places the newly gifted photograph of her grandson next to framed pictures of her other grandchildren. It was taken before his school ball and Maree Bernasconi's face lights up with pride as she looks at it.

The photographs are the only decorations in what is otherwise a functional office, with folders and filing trays neatly arranged. This is Bernasconi's second home and has been for 32 years - the Pukekohe Netball Centre.

The Pukekohe resident is the matriarch of the centre which has more than 2000 players stepping on to the courts each week during winter.

"I actually enjoy it all, I enjoy seeing netball going from strength to strength in Pukekohe," she said.

Bernasconi, the administrative manager, has been behind all major changes to the centre, including raising money for the resurfacing of the courts and for the centre's two-storey building.

She is working on transforming a small neighbouring section into a car park, and a $300,000 canopy, which will span two courts. She said the design would take into account extensions of the canopy in the next few years.

"It's future-proofing the club. Over the years I've raised a lot of money - gaining money for funding is one of my strengths." She, along with other key members, has raised $4 million within the Franklin community and has been awarded three life memberships as an expression of gratitude, with the Pukekohe Netball Centre, Counties Manukau Netball and the Franklin District Pony Club.

She is also a Service Award holder for Netball New Zealand and was named Counties Manukau Sport Administrator of the Year 15 years ago.

Despite her involvement, she said she rarely basked in the glory of it all.

"There's been a lot of people involved over the years.

"We're the envy of a lot of clubs because they don't have a lot of people that put their hands up - you don't see that these days, not any more."

Bernasconi fell into her role after her husband John sold their business, John Bernasconi Motors. "The position came up and the office administrator before me resigned so I started doing the job until we got a fill-in.

"We'd sold our business and I'd been at home for 12 months and couldn't handle it.

"I've got to keep busy, I enjoy being busy, I have no interests in wanting to stay home."

She has held nearly every position at the centre, including president for five years.

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She also works as the manager of the U19 Pukekohe representative team, which is coached by former Silver Ferns Temepara Bailey and Vilimaina Davu.

As an administration manager she looks after the money and creates draws for 170 teams a week.

"My hours are whatever it takes, we just keep going until the job's done. At the end of the season that's where I have my days off."

She said the toughest part was trying to please everyone with the times of their fixtures.

"We've got 170 teams playing netball and sometimes it doesn't work and you get upset people."

- Waikato

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