Mags to riches: Rangitikei hockey team's Cinderella story

Sala Leitupo, 13, shakes Black Stick Kayla Whitelock's hand after receiving a hockey stick.
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Sala Leitupo, 13, shakes Black Stick Kayla Whitelock's hand after receiving a hockey stick.

When a hockey team from a small Rangitikei town couldn't afford to buy gear, players padded their shins with magazines and insulation tape and got stuck in anyway.

And they didn't just play, they excelled. Despite their hand-me-down wooden hockey sticks and haphazard gear, eight members of the team of 13 have made it into representative teams for the district.

The determination of the team, from James Cook School in Marton, has not gone unnoticed in other areas either, and on Thursday, they finally got their Cinderella moment.

John Turkington, centre left, with Black Stick Kayla Whitelock and Angela Turkington, surrounded by James Cook School ...
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

John Turkington, centre left, with Black Stick Kayla Whitelock and Angela Turkington, surrounded by James Cook School hockey team members. Front: Hazeliz Tauailoto, 13, Dwayne Manulua, 12, Angelyn Tauailoto,13 and Aaone Sio, 12. Back: Errol Proctor, 12, Lefata Tualafo, 12 and Sala Leitupo, 13.

The team, which formed last year, is the first the school has had since 2009. But, hockey is an expensive sport and principal Michelle Cameron said many of the pupils wouldn't be able to play if they had to buy their own gear.

So, they made do, using old sticks and shin guards given to them from Turakina Maori Girls' College after it closed in 2016.

The wooden sticks didn't hold up that well against newer, fibreglass ones, and they occasionally had to do a bit of DIY. 

"We did a makeshift of magazines and insulation tape for shin guards [last year] for some games," Cameron said.

The success of the players, despite their abysmal gear, prompted John and Angela Turkington, who own a forestry consultancy company in Rangitikei, to step in to ensure the sport was accessible to all pupils.

John Turkington said they were passionate about kids playing sport and being involved. 

"It's the difference between having and not having.

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"Last year they had a whole team, this year they have two teams."

The long-time hockey supporters donated 25 sticks, shin guards and balls to the school. The new gear was presented to the pupils at their school on Thursday by former Black Sticks captain Kayla Whitelock.​

Cameron said the Turkingtons' generosity was overwhelming, and to have Whitelock visit was amazing. 

Some of the team's training last year consisted of watching YouTube clips of Whitelock and mimicking her style, Cameron said.

In a speech to the school, Whitelock encouraged them to dream big.

"When I was 10, it was only a few years later my dream became a reality."

Whitelock played her first game for the Black Sticks while still at high school, and retired from hockey last year after the Rio Olympics.

She was named women's player of the year and players' player at the recent Hockey New Zealand awards. 

Student Hazeliz Tauailote​, 13, said last year was her first year playing hockey.

She has only lived in New Zealand for three years, having emigrated from Samoa.

"It's a really fast game and I enjoy when I play." 

Last year, Hazeliz was selected for the under 13 Rangitikei representative hockey team and will this year captain the school team.​

 - Stuff

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