A key figure in the Silver Ferns growing status in the modern era of the sport, the netball community is mourning the passing of shooting great Mirth Solomon.As a Netball World Cup winner and runner-up, Solomon achieved greatness on the court but was just as influential on the sidelines where her abilities as an educator, coach, mentor, role model, counsellor and empowered Māori wahine sit alongside her remarkable feats as an athlete.
By today’s standards, Rotorua’s Solomon, at 1.73m (5ft 8in) was not exceptionally tall for a goal shoot but developed into a world-class player after first being selected for the Silver Ferns in 1963. A reliable and accurate shooter, Soloman’s skills were founded on her deceptive body movement and ability to find space.
After finding her feet and learning the craft of the goal shoot position at the elite level in 1963 when the Silver Ferns were edged by a solitary goal at the inaugural World Tournament against Australia, Solomon’s career continued to gain momentum in the following years.
A feeder’s dream, Solomon was an automatic choice for the 1967 Silver Ferns team which swept all before them to clinch the second edition of the World Tournament in Perth.
In tandem with the dynamic Joan Harnett, Solomon formed the most formidable shooting combination in the world at the time as part of the all-conquering 1967 team which has been heralded as one of the finest to represent the Silver Ferns.
In 1963, Solomon travelled by ship to England for the sport’s first world tournament. In the lead-up, she taught at Mamaku Primary School, in the rugged hills west of Rotorua.
She would catch the 7am bus to school, then shoot goals until the bell rang to go into the classroom. That was followed by shooting goals for the whole lunch hour, and again after school until she caught the bus back to Rotorua. On the way home, she’d stop at Kuirau Park and go for a run.
Four years later, when Solomon was the No 1 goal shoot in an experienced New Zealand side bound for Perth, she had her first daughter but she hadn’t lost any of her commitment to netball.
With her distinctive left-handed shot, the Rotorua school teacher and new mum was the highest-scoring shooter in Perth. It was Solomon who led the Silver Ferns in a victory haka after they won their first world title.
Solomon was born in Paeroa in 1939, one of 11 children with iwi affiliation to Tainui. After attending Paeroa District High School, she finished her schooling at Queen Victoria School in Auckland.
In 1958, she went on to study at Auckland Teachers’ Training College and obtaining her teaching qualifications. Her first teaching job was at Pukekohe School, followed by schools in Pukehina and Mamaku.
Solomon represented Auckland at under-21 level in 1959 and was selected for the Auckland A team in 1960 before moving to the Rotorua. She took part in selection trials for the national team in 1962 and was selected at goal shoot for the 1963 Siver Ferns team.
She married Roger Solomon, a rugby coach, in 1964 and they had two daughters.
Solomon continued to teach, at Rotorua Girls' High School in 1965, where she taught physical education and geography, and then Sunset Intermediate School in Rotorua from 1966 to 1968. In 1969, Kaitao Intermediate School was established in Rotorua and she became a founding member of staff, retiring as deputy principal in 2005.
After retiring as a player, Solomon continued to be involved with netball in the Rotorua area. In 2001, she succeeded Taini Jamison, who had been her coach for the 1967 world championships, as president of Netball Rotorua, relinquishing the position in 2016. She also became a senior-level umpire.
In 2003, she was inducted into the Māori Sports Hall of Fame. The 1967 world championship team was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
In a lifetime of giving back, Solomon was also honoured with a Multi Serve for National Education, a Netball Bay of Plenty Service Award, a Netball New Zealand Service Award and was a Life Member of Netball Rotorua.
Widely respected across many walks of life, Solomon was a towering presence in netball while setting an outstanding benchmark for those who follow.