Champion coach hit with long ban

By Steve Deane

Exclusive: St Cuth's hockey leader 'gutted' he's been sidelined for 14 weeks after opposing 'elitist' schools competition

Simon Norton.
Simon Norton.

The long-serving coach of the champion St Cuthbert's College hockey team has been slapped with a 14-week ban for allegedly undermining a new elite competition.

Simon Norton, a former Black Stick and representative coach, fronted an appeal to College Sport that led to the new city-wide competition being deferred from 2012 to 2013.

Then, before the launch this year, he emailed schools asking if they planned to enter - a move College Sport viewed as undermining the new competition.

St Cuthbert's initially declined to enter the new competition, opting instead for a rival competition based on the previous format of regional matches followed by inter-regional playoffs.

"College Sport deemed that was an unsanctioned competition and they threatened sanctions against our school and all other athletes at the school," Mr Norton said. "They threatened that so we had no choice."

He said other schools had also entered the new competition - which was ultimately won by St Cuthbert's - under duress.

Mr Norton, who has received numerous awards for services to the sport over a 27-year coaching career, objected to the city-wide format because of the travel and time demands on students and volunteers. He believed the push for the new competition came from a small number of "elite-orientated principals" who were interested only in playing against fellow elite schools.

He spoke out against the concept because he believed college sport should be more about development for the game.

Mr Norton is appealing against the ban. "It has devastated me," he said. "It has besmirched my name and really I am absolutely gutted."

An email sent to schools by the Auckland Secondary School Heads Association - which was forwarded to the Herald - states the coach's actions "in attempting to derail a Super City-wide Premier competition had the effect of not only undermining the specific competition but also undermined the [association board's] authority".

Mr Norton - who was not named in the email - denied that was the case. The new elite competition had been rejected by Counties Hockey and the majority of schools aligned to North Harbour Hockey.

"I wasn't trying to derail the competition at all," Mr Norton said. "I have no say over the North Harbour or Counties associations. Those associations walked away because it was a bad idea."

St Cuthbert's principal Lynda Reid confirmed the school would appeal against the length of the ban - which will take effect next season - but had no complaints about the process.

"We accept that Simon in his passion and enthusiasm for hockey did not follow the expectations of College Sport and we do expect him to do that, but we will appeal the severity of the stand-down," she said.

"We have supported the appeal because we feel the sanction was quite a severe one, but we accept it was a very good process [the heads association] went through and I have a very high regard for the way it was handled. We will abide by whatever decision they come to."

College Sport chief executive Manoj Daji said he could not comment as the suspension was under appeal.

Secondary School Heads Association president Mike Leash, principal of Botany Downs Secondary School, said the Super City competition had proven popular with schools and worked "enormously well".

Hockey stoush

• St Cuthbert's College coach Simon Norton banned for 14 weeks for undermining new competition.

• Norton, who's been a coach for 27 years, led objections to new Super City-wide format.

• Report found his emails to other schools contravened College Sport policy and that he acted without full knowledge of St Cuthbert's principal Lynda Reid.

• College plans to appeal against length of ban.

- NZ Herald

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