I loved sport and spent most of my spare time at Whangarei Boys High School playing games of some sort.
I had already played rugby and cricket at Maungaturoto, and had done lots of swimming at Waipu Cove, but many of the sports were new to me. I’d never heard of gymnastics, but took to it very quickly (I’ll do a separate blog item about that later). In this blog item I’ll talk about the other sports I played at secondary school.
I’d never heard of basketball before going to Whangarei Boys. (In those days it was called “indoor basketball” to distinguish it from netball which was still called “basketball” at that time.)
As I recall, our school team played in the senior men’s competition in Whangarei, and we did okay against bigger opposition.
In 1959 we played a tournament against the three top Auckland teams and came second, which we country boys were very proud of. We had two players fouled off during the game and didn’t have any more replacements, so we had to play the last period with only four players against five, and still only just lost!!!
At the end of the tournament they named an Auckland provincial team, and three of us were selected (including Grandad Dale).
In the picture, Grandad Dale is in the back row on the left. Our numbers look a bit mickey mouse, don’t they. Maybe we did the sewing ourselves!!!
I’d never heard of hockey before, either, so after a couple of years I decided to give it a try and quickly made the top team. Again, we played in one of the senior men’s competitions and did reasonably well.
One year we went to Auckland to play in the national schoolboys tournament. We did pretty well but didn’t quite make the finals.
At the end of the tournament they selected teams to represent the North and South Islands and I was selected for the North Island team playing in my usual position of left-wing. I can’t remember who won the match, but I do remember that, at one stage, one of the opposing players hit me right across the shin with his hockey stick. It drew blood and boy did it hurt. The fact that my opponent happened to be the spitting image of my brother Max made it seem doubly unfair!!!
In the picture, Grandad Dale is in the front row, second from the right.
By the way, in those days we didn’t have artificial turf, which has pretty much revolutionised hockey. Players can now pass with much greater accuracy because the ball doesn’t bobble up and down as it goes across the turf. As a results, the game is now much faster and the players much more aerobically fit.
Penalty corners have changed a great deal, too. Again, the perfectly smooth pitch makes the drag-flick possible, which is so difficult to defend against.
Softball was yet another game that I’d never heard of before going to Whangarei Boys and I quickly switched over to that from cricket (which I was never all that good at). I played first baseman (which suits a left hander like me) and, again, we played in one of the senior men’s competitions. I can’t remember how well we did, but it’s a terrific game for kids because everyone gets a pretty equal involvement in both batting and fielding.
The gloves were very different in those days. They were similar to the top picture on the right, but without any webbing. Because you couldn’t wrap your fingers around the ball you would use the gloved hand to stop the ball and then, an instant later, grab hold of the ball with the other hand (otherwise it would drop to the ground).
The new style of gloves (like the second one shown) started coming in while I was playing and the loose webbing made it possible to catch the ball with one hand, making the game very much easier.
Grandad Dale is in the back row, second from the left (next to his good mate “Charlie” Tutaka from Rarotonga).
Rugby was the main winter sport, of course, and even hockey (which was very strong in the North) was looked down upon a bit. As for soccer, most of us considered it a game for boys who were too pathetic to play anything else.
One year, the soccer team had an important match coming up and asked the hockey team to give them some practice. Hockey and soccer have lots of similarities, so it was felt we could quickly adapt to their game. In fact, we confidently expected to thrash this bunch of “four eyes”, as we called them (most of the soccer players wore spectacles, even while playing).
Well, it turned out that they thrashed us!!! Soccer is a game of great skill and we just didn’t have good enough technique. On top of that, it was a wet day and in those days the ball was made of leather, which meant it got very heavy in the rain. I can still remember my first attempt to kick the ball to a teammate. I connected okay but, THUD, I nearly broke my foot (and the ball dribbled only a few yards away).
So, I’ve only ever played one game of soccer, and we lost. Lesson learnt; be respectful of people who are different from you, they will probably surprise you.
Other sports I played included, swimming (hopeless at overarm but pretty good at breaststroke), diving (runner up on the one metre board), athletics (pretty good at hurdles and the high jump), and tennis (hopeless, never really got the hang of it).