Southland Life Member and former NZ Councillor Athol Bell passed away peacefully in Invercargill on Thursday, October
29 after a lengthy illness, aged 82.
Athol had an affiliation with Southland Softball spanning more than 65 years, right from his early beginnings with the champion Old Boys club which in the 40s and 50s achieved 10 successive Calder Mackay shield wins through their Blue Sox, Red Sox and White Sox teams.
The youngest of three brothers - Trevor and Lindsay were also high achievers in the sport - Athol made a name for himself as a player of the future in whichever position he played, but quickly developed into Southland's top pitcher.
Athol made his debut for Southland in the 1951-52 season and his potential talent as a windmill pitcher was recognised by then New Zealand great Brian Wareham at a national tournament. His coaching there was taken on board by Athol and had a great influence on the domination he was able to exert at local and provincial levels in the following seasons.
Further honours came when he was selected in the NZ Tournament team, along with clubmate Jack Lyall, at the national champs in 1955 and later he was honoured with South Island selection at the conclusion of the 1962-63 nationals, the first big tournament played on the newly-laid permanent diamond at Surrey Park in Invercargill.
After (and also during) his playing days Athol devoted lots of time to coaching teams at all levels, from youngsters up to both men's and women's Southland teams, and everything inbetween, sharing his wealth of knowledge and softball "smarts" to the benefit of so many players on the local scene
Among them he coached Blue Sox Major League men and women, Southland Under 15 Junior Girls up to Southland Senior Women, and capped his career with a successful stint at the helm of the Cardinals Major League women's team.
Athol's early financial background in the Invercargill Town Clerk's office saw him take on the Southland SA's treasurer role in his first foray into provincial administration in 1954, beginning what was to be a huge commitment to Southland over the years that followed.
He was teasurer again in 1979, but along the way he served three separate terms as President, and also served for 10 years on the NZ Council from 1981. He was awarded a NZ Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his input at local and national level and Southland awarded him the highest honour of Life Membership in 1987.
Athol often figured prominently when national tournaments were allocated to Southland, sometimes as a coach, as a member of the organising group, the Tournament Organiser or the NZ Liasion Officer in overall control and had the ability to come up with the solutions when problems arose, usually brought on by wet weather.
The daddy of them all occurred in the 1990-91 season when Southland hosted the women's national champs. A water-logged Surrey Park and other Invercargill grounds became unplayable after three days and Athol led the move which saw equipment and players shuttled to Gore for the final two days and the successful completion of all three grades.
Athol was a real Softball enthusiast who appreciated and enjoyed the sport at all levels, no more so than his various ventures overseas as the Black Sox and White Sox competed and sometimes won world championships in venues such as Taiwan and South Africa, and when world championships were played in New Zealand.
He was one of Southland Softball's early stars and with his passing we have lost one of the strongest links to the beginnings of a sport which touched so many of us in the intervening years.
Athol's farewell will take place at Avenal Park on Monday, November 2. Messages to 46 Totara Street, Invercargill.
October 30, 2015