Betty Codona OBE 1938-2022: Basketball mourns the passing of legendary pioneer


The British basketball community is coming together to pay tribute to the legendary pioneer Betty Codona OBE, who has sadly passed away. 

An unrivalled colossus of the women’s game in the UK, Codona dedicated 60 years of her life to passionately inspiring thousands of people to play the sport that she loved so much. 

In a stellar career that began as a PE Teacher and resulted in her founding the Sheffield Hatters in 1961, she not only went on to win countless titles and establish the most successful club in women’s basketball, but she also played an immeasurable role in growing the game. 

The enthusiasm, dedication and skills of Codona came out in everything she did. From when she proudly stepped out as a player and competed in the first ever National Cup Championship in 1965, to when she subsequently delivered 40 separate pieces of silverware as head coach between 1989 and 2009, prior to moving on to work as the Chair of the club. 

The list of honours that Hatters snapped up under her stewardship from the sidelines is staggering, with Codona having accumulated 14 league titles, 12 playoff titles and 11 cup titles. All of those fed into the 65 in total that Hatters have won since she founded the organisation, making them the most successful ever. 

Described by many that knew her as a force of nature, the inclusive and family environment that Codona fostered within Hatters is something she was fiercely proud of and will remain stronger than ever. 

That social cohesion and community work was also a major factor in the awards that she was both given and in contention for. As well as richly deserving her OBE late last year, at 83-years-old, she was BBC Unsung Hero for Yorkshire and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year Award. 

Betty’s family described her as: “An inspiration for all, she was determined, relentless, intelligent and most of all passionate. Betty’s ethos will live on through every female who has represented the Hatters. Everyone here within the Hatters are deeply saddened but we stand united to carry on Betty’s values and beliefs as we respect the past and we will forge the future.” 

She was extremely proud of her two daughters Vanessa Ellis and Loraine Gayle, who played to the highest level of basketball in England throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Vanessa has followed Betty’s footsteps into coaching, assistant coaching Great Britain and Team England to a Commonwealth Games silver medal in 2008. She was most proud of her grandchildren: Tyler a Hatters coach; Georgia a star player for the Sheffield Hatters WBBL and GB representative; Quinn a prospect playing for Capo d’Orlando in Italy.  

Codona, who served as chair of England Basketball, also had the Women’s British Basketball League Trophy Final named after her and her work, alongside the Sheffield Hatters club, were recognised with a "Services Basketball Award" at the Basketball England Volunteer Awards in 2019.

WBBL Chair Jim Saker said:

“When I first became Chair of the WBBL, my first official duty was to present flowers to Betty on her 80th birthday before the Betty Codona Trophy Final. It was my first meeting with her, and from then on, she became both a source of advice but more importantly, a respected friend. She will be sadly missed.” 

Basketball England CEO Stewart Kellett said:

“Betty lived an amazingly full and productive life. Her passion, determination and selflessness in promoting and serving the sport, and in particular, women’s basketball, has been unparalleled in terms of its success and influence.  

 “She was one of a kind. Her spirit and generosity saw her contribute to the sport and her community in Sheffield over such a long period of time, positively impacting so many lives. She will be greatly missed but her fantastic legacy is rightly a huge source of pride form her family and the Hatters club and all of us in basketball.” 

British Basketball Federation interim chair Toni Minichiello said:

“The term legendary is overused in sport, but it is fitting in Betty’s case. She has been and continued to be the lynchpin for female basketball and basketball in general in Sheffield and across the country for decades.  

“Her tireless effort, spirit and influence and have done so much good for the game and for the young people who come through – and continue to come through – the Hatters club. She is going to be sadly missed by many, but she leaves a dynasty behind her in her family and the club that will continue her brilliant work long into the future.” 

British Basketball League Chair, Sir Rodney Walker said:

“Betty is rightly revered for her incredible work and legacy in the women’s game, but what can never be forgotten is that she impacted the sport for everyone, not just for girls and women. Her community work and dedication in helping to grow the game for all young people and from so many different backgrounds, is what matters most. The sport is incredibly privileged to have had such a formidable and amazing role model like Betty for so many years.” 

Currently in their Diamond Anniversary year, the legacy that Codona leaves the club goes way beyond the Hatters. It spans not only the local community, but also leaves an indelible print on British Basketball  

The sport will stand together this coming weekend in recognition of her staggering accomplishments, with 24 seconds of applause before each game as British Basketball pauses to remember and respect a true great.