Kathy Foster (Basketball Australia)

Kathy Foster

It was a very cold morning at New Norfolk High School in Tasmania and the young female teacher was teaching quadratic equations to her Year 10 Math’s class when there was a knock at the door. A fellow teacher informed her that she had an urgent phone call and that he would look after her class while she took the call. The young teacher hurried to take the call imagining all sorts of disasters (who had been in an accident or taken to hospital?). She was very surprised then to hear Bob Staunton from Basketball Australia on the phone. Bob was very excited. It took him some time to say that he was ringing to inform the teacher that Cuba had decided to join the Russian boycott of the 1984 LA Olympics Games. This meant that the Australian Women’s Basketball Team and Kathy Foster were off to the 1984 Olympics Games!

5 feet 11 inch (180cm) Forward

1984 Olympic Games

Kathryn “Kathy” Foster was born May 7th 1960 in Launceston, Tasmania.

She started playing basketball during her first year of High School. During the previous year a teacher at New Norfolk High decided to introduce basketball for the girls and trained a team, which included Kathy’s sister, to play in the Junior Hobart Competition. Consequently Kathy was keen to join the Year 7-8 team the teacher formed when Kathy started High School. This school team from the country was successful over the next four years moving from the initial lower grades to winning ‘A’ grade in Kathy’s final year at High School. 

During High School basketball was not really Kathy’s main sport. She had success as a swimmer, winning numerous State Age titles and breaking State Age Freestyle records. (Years later Kathy was to learn that as a twelve year old she swam at the same National Age Championships as Karen Dalton a future team-mate on the Australian Team).

 “During my early teen years my main sporting focus was in the pool…. especially swimming…… and also playing water polo. It was during Year 10 where decisions had to be made and it was about then that I decided to focus on basketball as my main sport,” says Kathy.

Kathy missed selection for the Tasmanian Under16 Girls’ Basketball Team in her first year but gained selection in the second year. This latter team travelled to Sale, Victoria and it was there where for the first time she gained recognition for her playing abilities. Co-incidentally, Brendan Flynn, who would later become her Australian Coach, was coaching the SA Under 16’s Girls Team at this same tournament. Kathy credits her local coaches Peter Norton and Gay Ransley as being major influences in her early basketball development.

In Sydney two years later at the Under 18 National Championships Kathy was the leading scorer in the Championships.  That same year she represented Tasmania in the Australian Women’s Championships in Hobart. She was named in the Australian Women’s Basketball Squad at the conclusion of the tournament. She stayed in the Australian Squad for the next three years but was not named in the final Australian team until 1981. In 1981 at the Australian Women’s National Championship she scored a record 52 points in one game.

On the back of her performance at the 1981 Australian Championships she was named in the Australian Women’s Team to tour China that same year. On this tour the team had mixed success but Kathy was always a member of the starting five. This gave her great confidence. From this beginning she was selected in every Australian team from then until she retired from international competition in late 1987 when she was pregnant with her first child, Rachael.

In 1982 Kathy played with the Australian Team on a tour to Chinese Taipei and in the Oceania Championships which Australia won.

In 1983 Kathy was named Vice-Captain of the Australian Team.  She played for Australia when it won the Gold Medal at the 1983 Commonwealth Championships held in New Zealand.

A big moment in Kathy’s life occurred when she was selected as a member of the Australian Team to compete in the 1983 Women’s World Basketball Championships in Brazil. Not only was this an opportunity for her and the team to compete against the best in the world, it was an adventure to the other side of the world. In the World Championships that were held in Sao Paulo, Brazil the Australian Team finished in 11th place.

After a tour to China in 1984 with the National Team, Kathy was selected to play for Australia at the 1984 Olympic Qualification tournament in Cuba. The team and Kathy played very well but lost a couple of games in dramatic circumstances (one on a “prayer shot” from near half-way) and failed to qualify for the 1984 LA Olympics. 

Not long after arriving back home in Australia Kathy and the team were told that they were going to the LA Olympics as a number of Soviet countries and Cuba had boycotted the Olympic Games. Kathy thereby became a member of Australia’s first Women’s Olympic Basketball Team. 

Kathy Foster (14) in the WNBL (Courtesy K. Foster)

Kathy Foster watching a game at the 1984 Olympic Games
(B. Marshall)

Kathy Foster (11) in action against Yugoslavia at the 1984
Olympic Games (K. Foster/Basketball Australia)

At the 1984 LA Olympics Kathy and her team-mates battled in each game against players who were much taller, bigger and more experienced. Australia caused a huge upset in its last game when it defeated Yugoslavia and attained 5th place (out of 6 teams). It was a marvellous effort.

In 1985 Kathy played on the Australia Team that won the Gold Medal in the inaugural Australia Games held in Melbourne. She was a member of the Australian Team that won the 1985 Oceania Championships in New Zealand and played for Australia on its twelve match tour of Europe.

In 1986 Kathy and the Australian Team went to the World Championships in Russia where they gained 9th place. It was a step down from their 4th place at the 1984 Olympics but they were learning and gaining confidence. A sidenote to the Russian trip was that just prior to the World Championships the Chernobyl nuclear reactor had exploded and the team had to be particularly careful about what they drank and ate while at the Championships.

Kathy’s international career concluded in 1987 when she played with the Australian Team on an eleven match tour of Europe.

From 1981 to 1984 (inclusive) Kathy was the only member of the Australian Women’s Team not playing in the fledging Women’s Basketball League (WNBL) as Tasmania did not have a team in the WNBL.

In late 1983 and during 1984 she was given permission to train and play with her husband, Phil’s A Grade men’s team in the main Hobart competition. At the time this was quite a unique situation. Doing this allowed her to play in a strong local men’s competition and to improve her skills whilst remaining in Hobart. During this time she also played in the local women’s competition as well as playing for Hobart in the National Club Championships each year, and for a couple of years in the second tier WNBL Conference.

Kathy who was only 5ft 11 inches (180cms) tall was nevertheless one of the best rebounders in Australia. Her days of competitive swimming had given her the upper-body and lower leg strength to compete against much bigger opponents. She had also developed a strong jump-shot from above her head (few women were able to do this effectively as the ball was at that time the same size ball as used by the men) and she was very hard to defend. These skills coupled with her highly competitive streak and toughness, honed by playing with and against men, made her a key player for the Australian Women’s Team. 

After the 1984 Olympics, Kathy and Phil decided to move to Adelaide to enable her to play in the WNBL. She had a very successful year playing with the North Adelaide Club under Coach Kay MacFarlane.

 During that year she was the MVP in the WNBL and also the Hall’s Medal for the Best and Fairest Female Player in South Australia.  At the end of 1985, Hobart was given the opportunity to play in the WNBL so Kathy returned home to Hobart.  She played for the Hobart team in the WNBL for the next two years. She won the MVP award for the WNBL in 1986 and the Top Shooter Award in 1987.

Kathy was a certain selection for the Australian Team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. However she fell pregnant in late 1987 and had to make herself unavailable for selection.

In 1988 her first daughter Rachael was born. Kathy recalls. “It was difficult being home with a new baby whilst the girls were playing so well at the Seoul Olympics.” The Australian Team went on to gain a historic 4th position at the 1988 Games.

Kathy returned to the WNBL in 1989 for perhaps her most successful year in the competition. Hobart had recruited very well under Coach Danny Adamson who Kathy says, “I would have run through a brick wall for.” The team went from not winning a single game in 1988 to making the 1989 WNBL Grand Final. It was Hobart’s first appearance in a WNBL Grand Final. Prior to the Grand Final Kathy and the Hobart Islanders played in the WNBL Final where due to a pilots strike the team had to fly in a Hercules aircraft from Hobart to Melbourne and then travel by bus to Adelaide. They won the Final. Despite a record 29 points in the Grand-Final from Kathy the Islanders lost to a very experienced Nunawading Spectres team.

After the Grand Final, Kathy was named (for the third time) MVP for the WNBL, top scorer and a member of the All Star Five.

The next year Kathy and the Islanders were again Grand Finalists in the WNBL and lost to the North Adelaide Rockets. Kathy was 18 weeks pregnant at the time and recalls, “I probably shouldn’t have played in that game.”

Kathy had a year off from the WNBL to have her second daughter Rebecca and after playing again in 1992 decided that her motivation was no longer there and retired from basketball at the end of the season.

Australian Team team-mate Trish Cockrem comments on Kathy. “I loved the work ethic of Kathy Foster and I admired that she didn’t come from the hub of basketball and yet she was such a great player.” Team mate Bronwyn Marshall adds, “Kathy Foster was the person who I most wished to emulate.”

Kathy Foster arguably remains one of the greatest basketball players to have come out of Tasmania. Her performances in the WNBL were outstanding. The fact that she was able to perform at such a high level after initially being unable to play in the WNBL competition testifies to her determination and talent. She took that talent and drive to two World Championships and one Olympic Games. She was a truly remarkable athlete and player.

In 2000 Kathy carried the Olympic Torch as part of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Torch Relay.