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Big dreams need more nurturing

Dane Lett has etched out an 88-test career with the Black Sticks. PHOTOS/FILE

What is the future for Wairarapa sport?

Where will it be in five years, in 10 years, or even 20 years?

We have an incredibly proud sporting history for a small region, population-wise. However, the reality is that most promising athletes in the modern era must leave Wairarapa to achieve their sporting dreams.

There are exceptions.

Black Stick Dane Lett is probably the most notable, representing New Zealand in 88 hockey internationals, mostly playing out of the Dalefield club. Seth Rance and Melissa Hansen are others, having carved out successful first-class cricket careers from their Wairarapa homes.

However, any promising rugby player with high ambitions simply cannot make it at the top level playing for Wairarapa-Bush, or, in fact, any Heartland province. They must leave to pursue their dreams.

Former Wairarapa College stars Sam Smith and Bruce Kauika-Petersen are two players that spring to mind, having represented Wellington.

Another, Isaac Bracewell, turned out for Wai-Bush in this season’s Heartland Championship as a player of origin from his Wellington club and showed he has the skills and temperament to take his game to a higher level. Unfortunately, it more than likely won’t be in the green and red.

Of course, one of the issues is university – not only in New Zealand but also in the United States, where the carrot of big money scholarships is dangled in front of prospective candidates.

Ana McPhie, on the ball, has flourished since taking up a US university scholarship.

Athlete Max Spencer, footballers Liam Hare, Anna McPhie, and Dani Cottle, and hockey player Poppy Lambert are just a few who have been attracted to North America and tasted success on the sports field.

Naturally, the departure of so many promising talented sportspeople, along with the many who give up on sport when leaving school, leaves a massive void on the local scene. The competitions have progressively got weaker and weaker.

To compensate, many sports bodies have looked outside Wairarapa to provide worthwhile competition for their teams.

For decades local football teams have played in various regional leagues, with Wairarapa United’s 13-year run in the very competitive Central League the most notable.

Dalefield Hockey have played in the Wellington competitions for nearly three decades and have become one of the dominant forces, winning multiple men’s and women’s championships.

Giants Softball have contested Hutt Valley and Intercity competitions for many years. More recently, Wairarapa Cricket joined the Coastal Challenge competition along with Horowhenua-Kapiti and Whanganui to provide their players with a better standard of cricket.

That leaves tennis – where a small, dedicated group of players compete in an interclub championship – and New Zealand’s two leading sports, rugby, and netball, as the only codes where the highest level of competition for senior players is locally based, although netball and rugby have college teams playing in regional competitions.

It is hard to gauge the relative strength and depth of netball because there is no senior representative programme for the top adult players to be tested.

However, rugby is a different story. There are worrying signs, if Wai-Bush’s disappointing 10th in the Heartland Championship is anything to go by, that the strength of club rugby is weak.

How much longer can Wai-Bush sustain a stand-alone eight-team or even six-team premier championship? How long will it be before the top clubs follow the lead of other sports and link with the likes of Wellington or Manawatu, or even Horowhenua-Kapiti and Whanganui?

Serious sport must provide the best opportunity for our best players to perform in worthwhile competition. Otherwise, we become a region catering to social sports.

We need to continue encouraging our promising athletes – no matter what sport and where they go – to keep dreaming big, working hard, and achieving their goals, and that way, we can celebrate their success as a small but proud sporting province.

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