Representing Australia in softball from 1977 to 1996, Joyce Lester is recognised as an icon of the sport.
After representing Queensland as a catcher in the Under 16 and Under 19 level, Lester was automatically selected for the Open team. She was the Queensland captain from 1983 and was a member of eight Gilley’s Shield (Australian Open Women’s Championship) winning teams, 1975, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996 (as captain of the last seven). Lester was also a member of her club team, the Rebels, which won the 1984, 1986, and 1987 National Club Championships. In 1990 she was named the Most Valuable Player.
First selected to represent Australia in 1977 as an 18 year old against New Zealand, Lester immediately established a permanent place in the team and represented Australian continuously over 19 years, representing Australia in 29 international competitions encompassing over 200 matches and five world championships – 1978 (El Salvador), 1982 (Taiwan), 1986 (Auckland), 1990 (Normal, Illinois), and 1994 (Newfounder, Canada) beating the four World Championship representations held by former Australian softballer, Midge Nelson.
Her performance as captain of the Australian team at the 1986 World Championships was outstanding with a batting average of .313 (in the top ten at the championship) and a perfect fielding average of 1000. This performance saw Lester recognised as the best catcher at the championship and gained her selection into the World All Star team. Lester also won All Star honors following the Intercontinental Cup in Italy in 1989.
Lester recovered from serious abdominal surgery in 1992 to regain her fitness and take her place in the silver medal winning team at the Challenger Cup in Beijing. Australia lost to the USA in the final in a performance that was described as the best performance by an Australian team in nearly 30 years. In April 1993, she led the team to a 3-1 series win over New Zealand, then ranked number two in the world.
A highlight of Lester’s career was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where Australia won bronze. This was the first time that softball had been included in the line up of Games events. This was Lester’s final international competition, announcing her retirement at the conclusion of the Games.
From 1996 to 1999 Lester played professional softball in Japan, before coaching in Japan from 2000 to 2004. She coached the Queensland Women’s Open team in 2000 and 2005.
More recently, Lester is a successful regional Queensland coach, coaching part-time in the Queensland Academy of Sport Softball Program. The aim of this program is to develop athletes for national teams at the Under 19, Under 23, and senior level. Lester was involved in the 2004 Olympics as a softball commentator.
Lester commanded the respect of players and supporters of softball throughout Australia through the high level of skill continually displayed, the competitive approach adopted, her knowledge of the tactics of play, and her leadership and sportsmanship. She is a role model for all youngsters in the sport who will endeavour to emulate her achievements.
Lester has served on the International Softball Federation Athletes Commission and has been the Australian players’ representative at the International Softball Congress three times. Lester is a Member of the Queensland, Australian, and International Softball Hall of Fame and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to softball.
In recognition of Lester’s contribution to the sport of softball, the Joyce Lester Shield is now the Under 23 women’s championships of Softball Australia. The competition was first held in 1997 to bridge the gap between the Under 19 national championships and the Open national championships.
Image: Softball Australia