With her tall figure giving her a clear view, former Silver Ferns shooter Irene van Dyk could see the future of her sport etched bright and bold.
Like some sort of netballing Pied Piper, van Dyk was inundated with eager young athletes on the second day of competition at the NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga, cheerfully agreeing to dozens of selfies and autograph requests and giving a handful of media interviews.
The 11th edition of the national intermediate-aged tournament has brought more than 7500 Year 7 and 8 athletes to Tauranga, with 96 netball teams included. Van Dyk, in town as an AIMS Games ambassador, admitted she was blown away by the scale of the whole event.
“There are definitely some future Silver Ferns playing here and these kids have an incredible opportunity to experience an event like this,” she said. “The opening ceremony last night had the same sort of buzz as a Commonwealth Games and teams from the North Island get to take on teams from the South Island. It’s an amazing concept and the rest of the world needs to see it.”
With the adjoining Blake Park football fields teeming and competition beginning under sunny skies in 11 other sporting codes, the tournament stepped up a notch after the first day’s cross country competition and opening ceremony.
The Rosmini College basketball team, coached by former Tall Black Dillon Boucher and featuring his son Jayden, showed what a threat they’ll be with the biggest win of the day, beating Otumoetai Intermediate 78-7, while at the other end of the scale, Palmerston North’s Monrad Intermediate edged Wanganui Intermediate in 28-27.
Manurewa’s Randwick Park School was one of seven unbeaten teams on the first day of rugby sevens action, joining Peachgrove, Tauranga, Hawera, Royal Oak, Glen Eden and St Peter’s College (Auckland).
Swimming heats began at Baywave Aquatic Centre, while the 19 waterpolo teams all had their first matches.
Bucklands Beach’s Rose Zheng struck a fierce blow in the gender wars, equalling the best opening round score in the golf with a nine-over 81 on the tough Omokoroa Golf Club course. The 1.9-handicapper finished level with Focus Jonglikit (St Peter’s Cambridge) and Taupo’s Dylan Bagley, and one shot clear of her brother Jimmy.
Back at the netball courts, Auckland’s Sylvia Park School was also upsetting stereotypes, featuring three boys in a 12-strong squad.
Making the team even more special is the family ties – identical twin boys Henery and Nick Taulongo featured heavily in their 32-12 win over Te Kura o Te Teko, while twin girls Melelose and Sulieti Manu-Topeni are also in the team.
Brother and sister Samuel and Neelia Fanguna and sisters Pam and Taina Eli complete the family-centric feel of the team.
“They’re a really tight-knit bunch on the court and I guess that’s because they’ve all grown up knowing instinctively how each other plays,” Sylvia Park coach Amanda Key explained.
Former international footballers James Bannatyne and Sacha Haskell, meanwhile, were also present at the tournament with the FIFA under-20 World Cup trophy, which will be played for in New Zealand next May.
Get the latest results from the 2014 NZCT AIMS GAMES at www.nzaimsgames.co.nz or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NZCTAIMSGAMES