Excellence without local limitations

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Timaru Boys’ High School director of sport Gary Ivamyand rector Nick McIvor respond to Courier columnist Harvey King’s opinion piece, ‘Why our high schools need to support local sport’, published on May 4.

We read the comments of Harvey King on May 4, expressing concerns about local sport and the place of local secondary schools relative to it, with great interest. Mr King suggested that schools like ours, with players in competitions outside the district, were somehow letting Timaru down, and letting students down, too. We don’t accept this. It’s our view that providing opportunities to young people to excel in sport, in new or larger competitions and sporting environments, is in fact better meeting their needs as aspiring young sportspeople. We believe it enables them to reach personal excellence beyond any local limitations.

We all celebrate the superb deeds of South Canterbury’s finest like Natalie Rooney, Tom Walsh, Hayden Paddon and our iconic Jack Lovelock – but how far would they have each got had they not accessed the right competition and right influences beyond the district, to fully develop in their chosen sport? They achieved strong groundings in the district. South Canterbury was for them, as it is now, a fantastic sporting nursery, but their “finishing” to reach the highest standards and achievement necessitated going further afield. This is a fact of life in modern sport if aiming to succeed in its highest places. Sport in New Zealand has changed and adapted and we have to change and adapt with it, to provide our students with the opportunities they deserve. The chance of being “spotted”, of the sort Mr King favours, diminishes hugely for young people if not seen regularly up against those setting the bar.

If suitable local teenage competitions did exist equal to those found in Christchurch, we would of course all prefer to have all our students in them. This is, however, not our reality, and so we, like other schools, selectively call on challenging teenage competition away if we can’t find it locally.

It was pleasing that Mr King mentioned secondary schools as the “lifeblood” of local sports. We are proud of the longstanding part we play. A majority of the first XI hockey team, for example, also play for Timaru club teams. A high number of TBHS teams are playing locally. There are six football teams, five hockey teams, eight basketball teams and eight rugby teams playing. Our students are also extensively involved in coaching and refereeing locally, from primary school level upwards.

The first XV plays in the Crusaders competition as a northern South Island competition rather than just a Christchurch one. If TBHS, or any other school, wants to be competitive in the top tier of schoolboy rugby, it has to play in this competition. Our two under-18 rugby teams now play in Christchurch competitions too, mainly because of the fact that there is no longer any South Canterbury-based under-18 competition running. Last year there were only four teams; one of these teams defaulted on a number of occasions, and two of the remaining teams in this league were ours. This situation of having very few teams was going to repeat itself in 2017, so to get games for our teams we chose to go north.

Our first XI cricket team has, as also indicated by Mr King, played in Christchurch for a long time. It plays against other school teams, some among the best in New Zealand cricket. If TBHS were to play in the local men’s competition instead we would have to add adult players to the team to be competitive. We prefer to keep the team as a student team, and in a competition for top teen talent, and are fortunate to have one available to us. And as to the reference to the practicalities of heading north, students are not away every weekend, as competitions are normally on a “home and away” basis, or in the case of hockey, played in Ashburton to save time and cost.

Alongside sport, our students travel to Christchurch, Wellington, or Auckland, for workshops, special facilities, art collections, drama productions, or other academic pursuits on a regular basis. It exposes them to learning they can’t always get in Timaru. We support local sports but also need to expose our students to the top levels of whatever they compete in – be it in sport, academic or cultural activity. We would be denying our students if we did not push them to be the best they can. We also reduce the risk of losing students north (or south) if they can access outside competition from Timaru. And very few families, if any, make decisions about the education of their children based solely on sport in my experience. The many other important features each local secondary school offers will always be decisive factors – including for our top players who need a wider education, too.

Regarding the comment: “Why would you consider attending a Timaru secondary school if it cannot offer a strong local competition?” The answer is simple: you would choose the local school knowing that you are still going to get good access to the level of competition found in Christchurch or elsewhere, should you want it, but without having to relocate from the local area, local family and friends, and local schooling to achieve it. In this way, you would get the best of both – suitably challenging sport with the advantages of local living.