Sport's sleeping giant on a roll
Bowls is the sleeping giant of Southland sport.
It's a sport that goes about its business with little attention and certainly not the glitz and glamour that is attached to some other sporting codes.
But the reality is that this is a sport that should be respected and is bigger than most people realise.
The fact that Southland has 1543 affiliated lawn bowlers and another 1000-plus casual lawn bowlers suggests that although it's not everyone's cup of tea, bowls is a sport of power in this province despite a perception it is a minority activity.
Only a select group can boast those sorts of numbers on their books.
Recognising this achievement, Bowls Southland has been named New Zealand's best bowls centre in 2011/12 because of its work in many areas.
Nationwide, bowls is hurting with a 4 per cent drop-off in participation numbers, and Bowls New Zealand is aware of that.
Southland in particular has been proactive in trying to at least sustain its numbers - hence the reason Bowls New Zealand put Southland on top of the pedestal.
Bowls Southland has already instigated initiatives - and is about to roll out more - to try to challenge the perception that bowls is a sport only for the older generation.
One of the initiatives is the creation of a "Student Club" this year catering for those aged between 12 and 26, in a bid to keep numbers in the game.
Bowls Southland has added to its staff in recent times, and the appointments include a development officer and a part-time high-performance coach, whose goal is getting better results at the higher levels.
Those staff have done a fantastic job, but the sports that do succeed are the ones that have a dedicated volunteer base.
Bowls in Southland has that.
At the same time Bowls Southland was named centre of the year, Robin Shanks won Bowls New Zealand's volunteer of the year award.
He is one of those volunteers who has helped make Southland bowls the success it is.
For more than 20 years Shanks has mentored many new bowlers to high achievements.
He gives up his weekends to act as tournament controller for many Southland lawn bowls events.
Shanks also introduced Mates in Bowls to Otatara Bowling Club.
Watch this space - Bowls Southland has won back-to-back New Zealand centre of the year awards, and it seems that if its plans are anything to go by, there will be more to come from this sport.
- © Fairfax NZ News