Katrina Hibbert is taking her determination to succeed as an elite basketballer into the classroom.

Backboard to blackboard

15:32:PM 04/04/2011
Cheryl Critchley

Courting success: Ivanhoe Grammars PE teacher Katrina Hibbert won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Courting success: Ivanhoe Grammars PE teacher Katrina Hibbert won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Most of us love to cringe at picture-perfect cheerleaders and macho football jocks on camp US high school TV shows such as Glee. They cant really be like that, can they? Katrina Hibbert discovered for herself that art really does imitate life when she spent a year as an exchange student in the small Louisiana town of Denham Springs. Each Friday, the whole school rallied for its footballers and cheerleaders performed for them. Students dressed to a theme, such as the 1970s or camouflage.

And then everybody buys badges to represent the football team and then they introduce each player on the football team and the band plays, Hibbert says. Its just full on. Absolutely like the TV shows. It was such a culture?shock.

Hibbert, who grew up in Diamond Creek, was in the US on exchange for her final year of high school, hoping to secure a college basketball scholarship. She loved it and her sporting prowess meant she was friends with everybody. A sort of female jock.

She did worry about getting a date to the prom, however, just like the girls on Glee.

You eat so much more over there and I think I put on about 15 pounds and its just like Im never going to get a date, she says, laughing. I went to the prom. What was his name? I think he graduated the year before. I should know his name. How bads that? He was cute.
The surreal but fun US school experience was just one of many adventures sport has led to for Hibbert, a member of Australias 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medal womens basketball team. She also played US college basketball, was drafted by Seattle Storm into the WNBA and had stints in the Hungarian and German national leagues.

The 178-centimetre guards bubbly and down-to-earth personality has also helped. If you are looking for someone who typifies all that is good about Australians, Hibbert fits the bill with her no-nonsense attitude, honesty, determination and self-deprecating humour.

Hibbert is so laid-back that she didnt even realise she had scored Seattle Storms first points when the team joined the WNBA in 2000. It was a lay-up, she recalls with characteristic understatement. I didnt even know until someone told me a few years later. I say at least Im a trivia question.

From a childhood filled with sporting achievements as part of a large, loving family, to her latest incarnation as a PE teacher at Ivanhoe Grammar School, Hibbert, 33, has done it all with style.

She has also had to cope with terrible tragedy. Brother Adam committed suicide three months before her father died from a brain tumour. But rather than hide from it, Hibbert is open about Adams death and hopes her experience can help others.

The hardest part is when everybody leaves, when the funerals are done and everybody walks away, she says. Its like how do you get on with life without the people who have been in your life for the last 20 years, 25 years, and all of a sudden theyre gone?

Luckily for Hibbert, as well as her family, she has always had sport.

Keeping active was a big part of Hibberts life from day one. The youngest of five children born within six years, she didnt have much choice. She spent her pre-school years happily tagging along to four lots of sport each week.

Siblings Fiona, now 38, Amanda, 37, Luke 36, and Adam, who would be 35, loved their footy and cricket. They were talented but their youngest sister, always keen to impress, was the only one to take it to the next level. As soon as she started playing netball and Auskick aged five or six, Hibbert shone.

Auskick was great fun and she easily matched it with the boys. I got to play at the MCG actually, one game for Collingwood. One kick, one mark, she says. I think I was in grade 6. It was pretty cool.

Still at primary school, Hibbert played a season with the Diamond Creek boys team and won the best and fairest. Her teammates were fine about it.

Hibberts father, Ray, who worked for the State Bank and her mother, Jenny, who worked in administration, bought a Diamond Creek milk bar when she was in primary school and ran it until she finished high school. Perhaps as a result, there was no shortage of friends.

Hibberts Milk Bar, it was very popular with all my friends lets go get some lollies, she says, laughing.

Before they had kids, Ray played cricket locally and Jenny loved her netball. Rays late brother, Paul Hibbert, played cricket for Victoria and Australia.

Hibbert attended Sacred Heart Primary School in Diamond Creek, then Loyola College for a year before moving to Diamond Valley College, which was supportive of her sport commitments. She took up basketball in grade 6, when an Eltham Wildcats coach saw her play footy.

In the early days, Hibbert would dream that she was Michael Jordan, watch his impossible NBA feats on TV then head into the backyard to practise his reverse lay-ups and spins.

Always keen to downplay her many talents, Hibbert even jokes about why she decided to try basketball. I was playing cricket and I swapped because my grade 6 boyfriend was playing, she says. He went to basketball, so I followed.

Hibbert was a natural. She was soon in the top representative team for her age group. But it wasnt all plain sailing. The aspiring star returned from her first Wildcats tryout in tears.
My mum tells the story of me coming home from the first tryout in tears because I didnt know what they were talking about, she says. I didnt know what a screen was. Whats a cut? Or re-cut? But apparently I could play the game well enough. I made the first team and from there I just made state teams.

Hibbert was representing Victoria before she turned 16, playing against the likes of Australian point guard Kristi Harrower. Basketball was it as her parents were so busy. This was probably a blessing in disguise, and she thrived.

Unless, of course, you define success by money earned; female basketballers are still poorly paid in Australia and the US.

She may not have made millions, but basketball opened doors. Hibbert spent year 12 in Louisiana on that exchange program, where she helped her school win the state championship. She then spent four years playing college basketball with Louisiana State University and completed a bachelor of science degree.

The full scholarship was a dream come true and covered accommodation, food, education and books.

Hibbert starred and made the starting five of the South Eastern Conference. She played against WNBA Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings and the San Antonio Silver Stars Chamique Holdsclaw. Hibberts career highlight to that point involved both, when Louisiana beat the much-favoured Tennessee.

I think we were No.?15 in America and they were No.?1 in America and the college system at the time, she says. I made the game-winning back-door cut on Chamique Holdsclaw and then hit the lay-up and got the foul from Tamika Catchings and scored the free throw that won the game. It was a sold-out stadium, so there were about 10,000 people there. Any time you played Tennessee, the stadiums were packed out, so it was quite amazing, and we had reporters following us around the next day on campus to see what it felt like to beat No.?1-ranked Tennessee. It was so surreal.

The move made ESPNs play of the day.

While studying at Louisiana State, Hibbert decided she would like to teach. I think it was my second year, I just thought I loved my sport, I loved being around young people, they keep you young and active as well. So I just decided Ill do PE teaching.

Before she could complete the extra qualification, she was drafted by the newly formed WNBA Seattle Storm. It was a year before fellow Australian Lauren Jackson, now widely considered the worlds best female basketballer, joined.

Things didnt turn out as planned, partly due to the much heavier emphasis on individual players. College basketball was more of a team game, which suited Hibbert. So she struggled. Im not a great individual one-on-one player but Im a good team player, she says. I know where to find my teammates and things like that. I got cut the second season. I knew I was getting cut when they took Lauren away from being my car partner. You had a car buddy from the team and, being Australians, and I was there the season before, they put her with me, and then when they took her away, I was like my times about to be up.

Being cut was shattering, but paled into insignificance when Ray was diagnosed with terminal cancer at about the same time. Hibbert returned to Australia in 2001, playing for the Bulleen Boomers and working in administration with Basketball Victoria.

Things were bad enough when the unthinkable happened. Adam took his own life three months before their father died. The whole family struggled, but gained some comfort in the close Diamond Creek and Sacred Heart communities. All our parents were still very good friends, Hibbert says. My brother was still good friends with a lot of people that he went to primary school with. So I think that community of Diamond Creek actually helped us through it.

Hibbert and her family tried to focus on their sick father. I think for that short period what kept us going was the fact that we had to be there for my dad, she says. Id go to the Austin and feed dad and sit with dad. Basketball was my outlet. Basketball training, being around my friends and having that two-hour period where I could just turn off and basketball was my focus.

Partly to escape the pain when her father died, Hibbert went to Hungary and played two seasons in its national league with Szolnok. It was too soon.

I needed to get away, she says. But in hindsight it was right after my dad and my brother had passed away and I dont think I was emotionally (ready) because you do get lonely, its a very lonely lifestyle. I didnt realise that language would be such a barrier. But I made some really good friends.

After returning, Hibbert won two WNBL MVP awards with the Bulleen Boomers and worked hard to make the Australian team. She did, and won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. It was the first time she had actually played with Jackson and had her family there, making it even more special. It was fantastic, she says. Because it was in Melbourne, it was just beyond expectations. I think it was a bit of at-the-end-of-the-rainbow sort of thing. If you do sort of work hard, you do eventually get some reward.

Next Hibbert went to Germany for two years, playing for Wasserburg (Water Castle), which is between Munich and Salzburg. She enjoyed that more than Hungary and was able to travel. Her team also won two German national championship titles.

Hibbert returned to the Bulleen Boomers and played her last WNBL game in the losing 2009 grand final side. This year, when Bulleen won its first premiership, she watched with Jackson.

When she did retire, Hibbert, who still plays for Eltham in the BigV competition, was at a bit of a loss. I think I was also very emotionally, mentally, just physically sort of exhausted from it all, to be honest, she says. And my sister got married and she had my little niece, and now Ive got two more nephews and its nice just to be home.

After doing some coaching at Ivanhoe Grammar and toying with the idea of joining the police force or fire brigade, Hibbert decided to complete her teaching qualification at La Trobe University. Ivanhoe Grammar snapped her up. She loves it, and all those years of hard work, teamwork, persistence and determination are now being channelled into her students.

Ivanhoe Grammar is the perfect environment for a strong woman, having gone co-ed in 1999. The school is keen to offer its growing number of girls the same opportunities as the boys, and who better to deliver that in physical education than an international sportsperson? Hibbert is already planning a US basketball tour. Were going to go down south, she says. Were going to take a boys team and a girls team. Its about the experience. America created so many opportunities for me and I like the idea of taking them back to show them that theres so much out there and theyre not limited to just staying in Australia.

The school is excited to have someone with Hibberts experience and stature, while she is thrilled to have top-notch sporting facilities and learn from its experienced teachers. Theyve been really supportive, she says. Theyve been fantastic. I have enjoyed every second of it.

The schools director of sport, Neil Buszard, says Hibbert is a natural teacher. She is calm, eager to learn and communicates well with students and fellow teachers, he says. The fact that she has played basketball at the elite level means she understands the commitment that is required to succeed, and she is already displaying that same commitment to her teaching, sport co-ordinating and coaching roles.

We have been fortunate to have Russell Feben overseeing our basketball program for the last 10 years, and now with Katrinas expertise and background, we can hopefully build on that solid foundation.

The students have been great, although it has been a bit unnerving knowing that her former exploits are online for all to see. Theyre amazing, this generation, Hibbert says. They Google you and try and Facebook you. Some come up to me and say I Googled you and theres a photo of you and Lauren Jackson. I think my credentials go up when they realise were friends. Its not about me, its about my friends.

Success stories Ivanhoe Grammar School old boys

Ben Clark

Attended Ivanhoe Grammar School, class of 2002
CV Classical and contemporary composer. Member of The Ten Tenors.

At Ivanhoe Grammar, Clark performed anything and everything and was captain of drama in year 12. Clark, who performs classic and contemporary music, studied musical theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2005 and now tours Europe, Asia and Europe with the The Ten Tenors. He has also played leading roles in The Wiz, Baby, My Fair Lady, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Pirates of Penzance and Guys and Dolls. When not singing, Clark enjoys martial arts, AFL and reading true crime books.

Wilbur Wilde

Attended Ivanhoe Grammar School, class of 1972
CV Jazz musician, TV and radio personality

One of Australias most prominent jazz musicians, Wilbur Wilde became a household name as the Hey Hey Its Saturday saxophonist. He has worked as a musician, radio host and actor with some of the biggest names in music including Skyhooks, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones. Wildes many credits include 750 The New Rocky Horror Show performances, Flying Doctors, Our Place, The Paul Hogan Show, Blankety Blanks, Sale of the Century, MTV, Getaway, Postcards, Spicks and Specks and Live at The Basement.

Cam McConville

Attended Ivanhoe Grammar School, class of 1992
CV Racing car driver, motorsport?commentator

McConville made his V8 Supercars debut in 1993. He was the youngest holder of a CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) racing licence, won the Bathurst 24-hour endurance race in 2002 and was runner-up in 2003. He also won the Australian Formula Ford and Australian GT Production Car championships. McConville raced for several teams, including the Holden Racing Team, and has worked as a TV presenter on Channel Tens motorsport coverage. He retired from full-time racing in 2008 after a nasty accident but made a comeback in 2010.

Professor John McKenzie

Attended Ivanhoe Grammar School, class of 1966
CV Internationally renowned geneticist, university administrator

After graduating as school captain, McKenzie enjoyed a distinguished career as a geneticist researching the population genetics of insecticide resistance. His discoveries contributed to the management of problems such as sheep blowfly, and helped the understanding of basic evolutionary processes in biology. McKenzie has also had a productive academic career. He was deputy vice-chancellor (research) at Melbourne University and has a Melbourne University fellowship named after him. He is now La?Trobe University deputy chancellor.


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