If Hockey New Zealand ever needed proof their investment in the six-a-side version of the game was paying off, Kaitaia’s Pamapuria School eagerly provided it.
The abbreviated version of hockey was included in the recent NZCT AIMS Games for the first time, with 16 mixed teams from around New Zealand competing in the Intermediate-aged tournament, which attracted 7500 athletes from 17 sporting codes. Full 11-a-side hockey was played as well, attracting 20 boys and 24 girls teams.
Research has shown that six-a-side provides a much better learning and development experience for young hockey players, enabling them to move into the full 11-a-side better equipped, and Hockey New Zealand has already started aligning that in their programmes.
When Pamapuria, located 8km south of Kaitaia and established in 1879, began the eight-hour trip south to Tauranga for the tournament, there was a slight hitch – none of the 10-strong squad had ever played on turf before.
However, after fundraising to go on the week-long trip, they packed a couple of secret weapons – new Pamapuria principal Rikki Horlock is married to double Olympian and former Black Sticks star Lizzy Igasan, while the team itself was packed full of both enthusiasm and pluck.
“We have a small class of 18 Year 7 and 8 kids in a full primary school and we didn’t have enough to make both a netball team and rugby sevens team so the kids decided on hockey to allow as many of them to play as possible,” Pamapuria teacher Cheryl Bamber explained. “We also took indoor bowls players and three multisporters who doubled as hockey players as well – basically we were trying to provide this opportunity for my kids to participate in any way, shape or form.”
The lack of turf experience was solved en route, as were a couple of other pressing issues.
“All the gear came second-hand from Lizzy’s contacts and mates and we only managed to secure the goal-keepers kit in Auckland on the Saturday as we travelled down. We also called into North Harbour Hockey on the way down and used the sand turf for 30mins, which exhausted the kids. They weren’t used to full-size turf and couldn’t believe how fast the ball moved – hardly surprising as they had only played on the grass field and our netball courts!”
Also not surprisingly, given their limited build-up, Pamapuria struggled for results and lost a tight playoff to Otumoetai Intermediate in the battle of the wooden spoon.
Aquinas College won a thrilling final 2-1 over Bucklands Beach in the closing minutes, after Bucklands Beach had won their semifinal 4-3 on penalty strokes over Albany Junior High, who in turn lost 2-1 on penalty strokes to Fairfield in the playoff for third and fourth.
“There were some amazing matches in the six-a-side division over the week but more importantly, it allowed some of our smaller schools to participate in hockey for the first time,” tournament director Vicki Semple said. “In the past, getting a full squad of 14 players for the 11-a-side section proved too much for some of our smaller schools but this format meant we got to see the likes of Omokoroa No 1 School, Pongakawa and Pamapuria School take part. Pamapuria’s story really is incredible – they really added to the flavour of the tournament and this sort of thing is exactly why we started the NZCT AIMS Games concept 11 years ago.”
Pamapuria’s story seemed to appeal to the teams around them as well.
“They didn’t win any games all week but they accumulated a fan base as schools slowly started supporting them on the sideline, once coaches and managers told their players our story,” Bamber said. “This really gave them a big boost and they handled defeat fantastically. Their skill level most definitely improved and I cracked up on the way home when we drove past a turf and they wanted me to stop for a quick game!
“Did they love their week long experience? Absolutely! Would they go through it all again? You bet! They have spoken about remembering this trip for a very long time and every single one of them turned up for school on Monday and guess what they played in the break? Yep – you know it – hockey!”
Here’s what some of the Pamapuria six-a-side hockey team had to say:
“I think that we did really well because we tried a sport that we’ve never played before. We versed schools that virtually play all the time and yet we still gave them competition. Even though I had the ball smashed in my calf muscle, I still came back the next day to play because I wanted to go out with a bang.” – Heaven Murray.
“There were so many people there which was a little overwhelming and even though I was injured three times, I still wanted to come back for more because I was so determined to play. If we had more time to practice, we could’ve done a lot better.” – Sidney Simeon.
“As a school team, we were happily cheering on other teams and being supportive. The facilities were awesome and I loved every second of the whole experience. I competed in multisport in the morning and got back onto the turf for the afternoon because I love the game so much.” – Tayla Bamber.
“We would like to thank our coach Lizzy Horlock, our manager Cheryl Bamber as well as our supportive parents and all of our opponents for making this opportunity and experience possible.” – The whole team.