NOT only was Kathleen Bartlett prepared to help give expression to the sporting dreams of children from under-privileged areas simply by being there for them, but she was also willing to nurture their aspirations by helping them to improve their skills.

It was never going to be easy though.

In 1971, when she announced she intended teaching children gymnastics, it was said that even those who loved her dearly stared at their shoes and quietly questioned her sanity.

This was not surprising.

The odds were always heavily stacked against her. Firstly, facilities in the council housing estates of Steenberg and Retreat, where she intended operating were less than sparse. And secondly, many of the children who attended her classes had difficult home circumstances to contend with.

Added to this, her ambition to start a gymnastics club seemed stillborn when almost immediately it became apparent that there was no place to house such a club. But Bartlett refused to throw in the towel, and, instead, stubbornly opted to run her first lessons from what was described as a less-than-comfortable hut.

Later, things improved when she was permitted to run her classes from the area’s first community centre.

Bartlett always had a close connection with school sports, playing a leading role in training girl athletes who participated in False Bay and Steenberg School Sports Union athletics meetings.

Her willingness to coach children – especially children from under-privileged communities – was the consequence of her own love of sport.

She wanted others to enjoy various games as much as she had.

She played netball at both primary school and high school and excelled at athletics. After completing high school, she enrolled at Wesley Training College, where she obtained a teacher’s certificate in 1948.

It was at Wesley that she also completed a club leader’s course through the Western Province Association of Physical Education Clubs. In this period, she tried her hand at gymnastics, fencing, tennis and table tennis – all with pleasing levels of success.

KATHLEEN BARTLETT – BUILDING SPORTING DREAMSBut it was in softball – as a pitcher (and captain) – that she excelled, with the Red Sox Softball Club, of which she was a founder member.

Red Sox, which was affiliated to the WP Baseball and Softball Union, played its matches in Maitland, but when it left to join the Cape District union, it played at the William Herbert sportsgrounds.

Bartlett, 89, who spent a lifetime promoting sport in underprivileged areas across Cape Town, is regarded as a living legend.