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Young netballers making history

Masterton Intermediate’s all-boys netball team, the first in Wairarapa. Clockwise from left: Riley Karaitiana-Lambert, Lucan Mapusua, Alatise Alatise, Jet Riwai-Couch, Miles Upton, Jacob Ross, Luke Jonas, Duncan Weir, Zeb Wheeler. PHOTO/ ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

A group of keen young athletes have pivoted, sprinted and leapt their way into Wairarapa’s sporting history books.

The 2022 winter sports season saw the arrival of Masterton Intermediate School’s boys’ netball squad into the Grade 1 Primary league – the first time an all-male youth team has represented the sport at a competitive level.

Despite entering the league as underdogs, with significantly less experience than their female counterparts, the boys finished the season on a high: Making the Grade 1 semi-finals, and narrowly losing to Lakeview School in their last match.

In a first for MIS, 22 boys showed up to the school’s netball trials in Term 1, enough to put together an 11-strong all-boys crew, and some co-ed teams.

Coach Olivia Geange said the boys’ season got off to a nail-biting start: Over half the team had barely set foot on a netball court before this year, and had little time to hone their skills before hitting the competition circuit.

Nevertheless, the boys proved their mettle, improving their ball skills “remarkably fast”, and impressing their adversaries with their chemistry, teamwork and “sportmanslike” conduct on the court.

Though New Zealand’s male netball teams have been successful on the national and international stage, Geange said young men are not often encouraged to pursue netball at intermediate and college level, mainly due to “traditionalist” attitudes in sporting circles.

With this in mind, the MIS boys’ success is “a historic achievement”.

“For us to have our first all-boys netball team in Wairarapa is pretty monumental,” she said.

“Unfortunately, sports are still quite gendered, there is still this idea out there that netball is just a girls’ sport.

“If we want more equality in sport, it has to start at the lower levels, with schools giving young people the opportunity to play the sports that interest them and they enjoy.

“We know girls can play rugby, so why shouldn’t boys be able to play netball?”

Geange said the boys coped “extremely well” with what was, at times, stressful first season, dealing with winter illnesses, scheduling training sessions and games around their other winter sports, and getting their ball skills up to scratch.

She said the boys were “a bit underestimated” heading into the season, going up against girls who “had been playing netball since they were tiny”.

“And the girls definitely weren’t intimidated by the boys, they were out to win, and they weren’t going to make it easy for them!

“But the guys held their own and showed what they were capable of.

“They showed great mana as a team as well, they knew it was important to be good sports, play by the rules, and show respect for their opponents.

“They were a credit to themselves.”

Year 8 pupil Miles Upton said the team played some of their best games under pressure, often coming from behind to close the gap on the scoreboard.

“We had some games where the first quarter would be really rough and we’d be about five or six goals down.

“But then, we’d put the pressure on and really go for it, and it’d be a close game.

“Once we realised we had the potential as a team, that’s when we did our best work.”

“I think we also played well together because we had good relationships with one another, we felt really comfortable together,” teammate Luke Jonas said.

Geange said there were some “great opportunities” for men’s netball in New Zealand, with all-male and mixed teams now, for example, represented in the Cadbury Netball Series.

“It’s really important that colleges encourage boys to continue with netball, and help create pathways for them to move on to those higher levels.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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