Scheme keeps uni students in sport

By Rowena Orejana

Josh Frisby can head for the books - or the boards. This afternoon the boards have won, and he's shooting hoops at the University of Auckland's Sport and Recreation Centre, warming up for the Faculty of Arts team that plays in the inter-faculty basketball tournament.

For the geography student, the competition is less about winning than taking a break from the stress of studying.

"It keeps me staying active. Often, when I'm studying here, I go home and have a break but I don't really get to do any exercise. With the tournament being run around here, I get to study and then take a break from study by playing sport for an hour or so," says Josh.

Leaving high school and quitting sport is common for young New Zealanders. Sport NZ studied 14- to 22-year-olds in 2006 and found studies, work and socialising contribute to the drop-off.

The university is addressing that by arranging competitions between faculties in eight sports - T20 cricket, touch, men's and women's basketball, badminton, volleyball, netball and rugby.

Nikki Henderson, the university's sport development manager, says it is often difficult for students to find out how they can get involved.

"This is a way to solve that problem. Our university clubs are involved with the tournament and through that they can recruit university players," she says.

The university held its first inter-faculty rugby tournament in 2009. This year, nine faculties are competing. "Each year it is getting bigger and better in terms of more tournaments offered and more students involved," she says.

Chris Marshall, in charge of communication for sport and recreation, explains the tournaments are modelled after those in American universities, but on a smaller scale.

"We're also trying to develop a stronger sense of community engagement with our students, which is why we're encouraging the student clubs to get involved with the organisation of these tournaments," he says.

Ms Henderson says their connections with university clubs and regional sports organisations such as Auckland Badminton have helped the tournaments. They are also using the competitions to improve students' campus life.

"We're trying to have a social element to it, to connect students with faculty through different means than just university classes. We want to show support for the faculty from the students to go watch their teams," she says.

Auckland University's various faculty students' associations also play a crucial role in putting the tournaments together.

"The assocations are one-to-one with students so we get the teams together, bring the teams down and bring the mascots, Powerades and t-shirts," explains Cate Bell, vice-president of the AU Commerce Students' Association.

She says the students' associations also fund many of the teams in the competition, although some have sponsors.

The commerce students' association recently imported big mascots like those used in the American games to improve team spirit, and the engineering faculty has an eagle.

"The Commerce cougar cost us a fortune," says Miss Bell with a laugh.

The tournaments also allow the organisers to pick the best of the best. "We quite like to get into the stage where we can pick tournament teams for all the tournaments, and then compete with other university teams for a one-off competition."

Mr Frisby says tournaments have helped him meet more people.

"Over the last two or three years I've made 10 to 15 new friends I wouldn't have met. Each year that I've been involved the next year I come back there's been a lot more people in the sport. A lot more people are finding out about it and each year the crowds in each one gets bigger."

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- The Aucklander

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