Small school making a mark

By Peter White

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Te Wharekura o Mauao is beginning to make its mark on the school sporting scene both locally and nationally.

The co-educational, total immersion Maori-language school is in just its second year based in the award-winning campus in Bethlehem, Tauranga but already has five New Zealand national title-holders among their whanau.

Joe Hughes, 14, has been the age group Taekwondo national champ in the past four consecutive years and Ronin Ainsley, 14, is the national 14-16 years wrestling champ. Te Kanahi Kuka, 14, and Paki Ormsby, 12, have been the Brazilian Jiujitsu champs for the past two years, while basketballer Nikita McGruer was in the New Zealand under-16 team last year and under-18 team this year.

The individual success stories follow on from some consistently good performances particularly in rugby at under-14 and under-15 level.

The school's senior manager and teacher in charge of rugby, Heyward Kuka, says they have high hopes for the rugby programme moving forward.

"Last year our under-14s made the Baywide final and so our under-15s this year is the continuation of those boys," Kuka said.

"They did a lot of hard work over the summer and we are leading the comp at the moment in both age groups. Some of the talent we have here is exceptional.

"Our plan is in two to three years with this under-15 team we can be in [Bay of Plenty Secondary Schools] division one."

Kuka says sport plays a key role in the school becoming established in the community.

"We have 135 students now from Year 7 to Year 12 and we started four years ago with 30 students at Years 7 to 9. Sport to our kura is all part and parcel about being here. They come here for a unique education but we also provide pathways for our students so if kids want to pursue a career in sport they can head for those goals.

"Sport plays a big part and is complimentary to our unique learning situation here."

The biggest challenge for the school is they are not well known yet.

"People sometimes don't want to play us because we are a new school so the unknown for us is a challenge," Kuka said.

"The first two years of rugby we have done pretty well but finding games against the top schools is pretty hard.

"Starting off it is pretty hard to get our foot in the door at big tournaments but it is slowly changing.

"There were negative connotations around our kura but the longer we stay here and the more people get used to us then it will be just another school. It has been pretty positive but they are surprised how a small school like this can be so successful."

Te Wharekura o Mauao's Head of Sport, Stu McDonald, says sport has been attitude and life changing for many of the boys in particular.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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