McEvedy Shield clash brings out the best
Punters yearn for the first Tuesday in November - Melbourne Cup day - but for a significant number of Wellington schoolboys, their big day of the year falls on the first Tuesday in March.
That is McEvedy Shield day, which ranks among the standout athletics meetings in New Zealand.
The McEvedy competition, which began in 1922, has been confined to four Wellington schools - Wellington College, St Pat's Silverstream, St Pat's Town and Rongotai College - since 1981 and ignites a fervour and passion rarely associated with domestic athletics events.
"They [the competitors] will never forget it," Wellington College athletics convenor Chris Wells said. "Win, lose or draw, it's one of those experiences the kids will always remember. I still remember my days as a competitor.
"When the crowd roars, the McEvedy brings out the best in the athletes. Some boys seem to find another couple of cylinders and go well beyond their PB."
Rongotai has struggled to be competitive in the McEvedy in recent years but the school has no doubt about the significance of the event. "There's nothing like it in New Zealand," Rongotai sports director Scott Richardson said. "It's a privilege to be involved and we love being part of it."
Pupils from the four schools pack Newtown Park.
"Athletics is [normally] such an individual sport but the McEvedy is a team event," Silverstream coach Hugh Steel said.
"We will have around 10 per cent of the school taking part and with the competition going from under-14 through to seniors, everyone knows someone who is competing and we take the whole school [to the meeting]."
There is no significant premium for winning at the McEvedy and the minor placegetters can swing the final result, with four points for a win, three for second, two for third and one for fourth.
Defending champions St Pat's Town won 20 events last year, only two more than than Silverstream, with Wellington College winning 15, but Silverstream had less depth and finished third, more than 50 points behind Wellington.
The McEvedy comprises 14 events, spread over four - under-14, under-15, under-16 and open - divisions.
Town are seeking a hat-trick of wins next week, something the school last achieved in 1992, and have taken the shield in four of the past six years.
Town were dominant in 2012, winning by more than 40 points, but Wellington College closed the gap last year.
The two schools were tied at the lunch break and the title was not decided till the relays, which close the meeting.
It would be a shock if Town and Wellington College don't fill the first two placings again next week and there is unlikely to be much between them.
Town head coach Leigh Lidstone is wary of Wellington College's strength in the junior ranks. "We will be strong in the under-15 and under-16 age groups but Wellington College look super strong in the under-14," Lidstone said.
"We have a good structure and expect to be highly competitive and there's the old saying that the team that wants it the most can make things happen."
Town, who won the traditional Old Boys' Cup clash with Silverstream by a good margin, will be captained by Daniel Buttar.
Yasheek Rosario will be a force for Town in the under-15 sprints and recorded 11.52 when winning the 100m at a club meeting last Saturday. Billy Proctor, a long jump medallist at the national schools championships, will also make a mark in the under-15, as will middle distance runner Joshua Nairne.
New Zealand schools junior triple jump winner Siosaia Paese, who has already won seven McEvedy titles, will spearhead Town's under-16 squad, along with the speedy twins Fa'aolataga and Mafutaga Tau.
Alex Haye, the winner of the under-16 100m for Town last year, has been impressive in training and his clashes with Mitchell Bialy (Silverstream) and Renata Mahukia (Wellington College) in the open sprints will be a highlight.
Marcus Karamanolis, a nationally ranked athlete, will be a standout for Town in the open middle-distance events.
The Wellington College team will be captained by distance runner Riva Williams.
Williams, who spent his first year at secondary school in Auckland, was inspired to take up athletics seriously after being a spectator at the McEvedy as a year 10. "It is an amazing day."
Williams won the open 3000m at the 2012 McEvedy and last year was the runner-up to Karamanolis, who will be a formidable obstacle again this time.
Sprinters Islam Khaled-Abbas and Ben Murphy and middle distance runner Marino Doyle will make their mark for Wellington in the junior ranks. Khaled-Abbas won the grade 13 100m, 200m and 400m at the North Island Colgate Games last month.
Shawn-Reece Ford won the under-15 100m, 200m and 400m treble for Wellington last year and will clash with the Tau twins again. "He [Ford] is running well and has the right attitude - he's very tenacious," Wells said.
Silverstream, who are led by Bialy, have some talented individuals, though Max Press, a dual winner last year, is injured.
Bialy will challenge for the senior sprint titles and Ryan Scaife, who is preparing for the world youth boxing championships, will be prominent over a middle distance.
Silverstream invariably shine in the javelin and Nathan Moen will be seeking a fourth successive McEvedy title.
Michael Poa, a winner of the 800m and 1500m at the North Island Colgate Games, will be a notable flagbearer for Silverstream in the under-14 grade.
Rongotai's squad will be jointly led by outstanding thrower Denny To'o and the school sports captain Matthew Brett.
To'o won the under-15 shot put and discus last year and junior sprinter Siatua Anesi is also expected to make a mark.
2013: St Pat's Town 2012: St Pat's Town 2011: Wellington College 2010: St Pat's Town 2009: Wellington College 2008: St Pat's Town 2007: Wellington College 2006: Wellington College
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The Dominion Post