Ki O Rahi rapidly making mark
For Sport Southland kaiwhakahaere Ki O Rahi Shontelle Dixon, Tuesday's Matariki Ki O Rahi Tournament will signal the culmination of 18 months' hard work.
Eighteen months ago the traditional Maori game was a mere blip on Southland's sporting radar.
Now, it's proving so popular amongst schools that many are incorporating it into their PE curriculum.
More than 26 teams from Southland's secondary and intermediate schools - more than 300 players - will take part in next week's Matariki Ki O Rahi tournament.
For Dixon, who joined Sport Southland at the start of 2012 tasked with delivering the sport in Southland schools, the numbers are exciting, as is the way the sport has grown within the province.
"There are all ages playing it and all abilities playing it, which is a big thing," Dixon said.
"Everyone understands that there's a whakapapa, or a story, behind it, it's not just a game and the kids understand the background behind it and the legend it's based on, which is great."
Next week's tournament will include only mixed teams, which Dixon said is in line with national trends.
"If we want to send a team to the nationals then it has to be a mixed team, so we're aligning with the national scene," she said.
"It's also really encouraging to see that the intermediate category is the largest in the tournament. Those players are the future, they are our up-and-comers, so if we've got the numbers and the quality at that level, that's likely to feed through to senior level and it really points towards a positive future for the sport."
Dixon always knew her role would come to an end. The aim was to get Ki O Rahi up and running in Southland, train teachers and community members to be able to deliver the sport and get it to a point where it has a sustainable future.
With a team of volunteers in place ready to drive forward Ki O Rahi ki Murihiku and Sport Southland on hand to support it where necessary, Dixon is confident the sport has a strong future in Southland.
"We've laid a really good foundation . . . now it's about ensuring that ball keeps rolling."
The Southland Times