AIMS Games just keep growing

By Kelly Exelby

Nine years after it first invaded our sporting fields, growing pains are getting worse for organisers of the AIMS Games tournament.

September's tournament for Year 7 and 8 students, which has gone international for the first time, will break all attendance records, with 151 schools registered to compete - up from 108 last year - and 5800 students descending on the city - 25 per cent up on last year.

New Zealand's biggest sporting tournament has grown exponentially each year, but with unprecedented demand has come a world of logistical headaches, with tournament director Vicki Semple wrestling this week with an oversubscription in hockey teams, late entries and the prospect of somehow having to squeeze 5800 students into a TECT Arena opening ceremony venue that holds 5200.

Semple has been in Sport Bay of Plenty's office this week before anyone else and said she preferred to think of the logistics around the Games' burgeoning growth as challenges, not headache-inducing.

"They're exciting problems that have been created, but problems that need to be sorted out nonetheless. One thing that's awesome out of all this though is it shows the emphasis New Zealand schools, and their teachers, are putting on students competing in sport."

Among the issues facing the organisers are:

Finding accommodation for 50 new competing schools.

Coping with 49 hockey teams on just three artificial turfs.

Capping swimming entries, with a waiting list now created.

How to fit all the students for the opening ceremony into a 5200-capacity stadium.

Semple said they were exploring several possibilities around coping with the opening ceremony overflow.

"That 5800 doesn't include coaches, managers, officials or parents either, so some of the suggestions we're looking at are a video link through to the adjacent six-court stadium or a drive-thru in the carpark."

An outdoor opening ceremony at Baypark Stadium is possible, something that excites Semple if the weather can be relied on.

Logistically, hockey was providing the biggest headache and organisers would this week look at balloting teams out of the tournament if a suitable draw to accommodate 49 teams on just three artificial surfaces proves impossible.

Semple said they knew demand for hockey would be difficult given there were just two turfs at the Tauranga Hockey Centre and Bethlehem College was used for spillover.

"We're looking closely this week at how to include everyone because we don't want to turn teams away. We need to nut out if we can get 49 teams on to three turfs across two venues in 4 days and still have a meaningful competition. We don't want to add a third venue into the mix because that means we need a third co-ordinator, porta-loos, first aid, marquees and a whole new set of issues around transportation."

Two schools from Australia will be here for the first time - one female swimmer from Newhaven College on Phillip Island and two basketball teams from Knox School in Melbourne. Semple promoted the AIMS games in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane late last year but is now questioning the need for further marketing across the Tasman given the uptake from New Zealand.

"This was the first year promoting it to Australia so we had no expectations around the number of schools, but because we are getting such huge support from schools here how much do we push it in Australia?"

Among the sports experiencing the most growth this year are basketball (an increase of 18 teams), swimming (up by 300 despite harder qualifying times), indoor bowls (twice as many teams), football and netball, which has increased 26 per cent to 76 teams. The only new sport, rugby league, has attracted 12 teams.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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