The Bay of Plenty Sports Awards celebrated the region's best and among them was a Rotorua club making massive strides in getting kids active and keeping them involved. The Club of the Year award had one of the strongest fields but there could be only one winner.
Sporting organisations all over New Zealand are putting more emphasis on getting children active and keeping them involved in sport.
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• Flurry of medals for Lake City Athletic members
• Athletics: Rotorua's Lake City kids gearing up for Colgate Games in Hamilton
• Lake City kids impress at Colgate Games in Hamilton
Rotorua's Lake City Athletic Club is no different, having put a heavy focus on doing just that in the last 12 months.
Kelly Albrecht took over as children's convenor in 2018 and along with a new team of volunteers, provided dramatic results.
Within the year, junior numbers soared from 145 children to 304 – making the club the biggest in the Bay of Plenty and one of the biggest in the North Island. Those numbers have since grown to more than 340.
In previous years, at events such as ribbon days, Colgate Games and Waikato/Bay of Plenty Championships, Lake City only had a few, if any, competitors taking part. In the last year they have become one of the biggest contingents, swarming the tracks with blue and white uniforms and bringing home swags of medals.
Last week, the club was recognised for its success, named Ebbett Tauranga Club of the Year at the Bay of Plenty Sports Awards.
Albrecht said the win was a shock, coming in one of the most competitive categories of the night. The other finalists were Mount Maunganui Surf Life Saving Club, Te Puna Rugby Club and Rotorua Mountain Biking Club.
"After hearing the high calibre of the other clubs and what they've been up to, it was actually quite a surprise but we're absolutely stoked. Everyone involved in sport and being a club knows the hard work that goes into it and I don't doubt the other clubs had just as good stuff as we did," she said.
Lake City kids impress at Colgate Games
Albrecht's mantra since taking over as children's convenor has been focused largely on inclusivity. Even at the awards, at Rotorua's Energy Events Centre on Friday, she recognised it was an event that young athletes would be inspired by and took three of the club's juniors on stage with her to accept the award.
"To see the look on the kids faces around our table, they were pretty buzzed out to be there and experience that with us. When they said the table had 10 seats I wanted to be strategic about who came because I don't think it's just the parents or the volunteers, it's also the kids who are a huge part of it.
"I invited a few kids who I knew would actually take something away from the event and would be excited to be there. They could be sportswomen and sportsmen of the year themselves later on down the track so it's quite neat for them to see what it's all about."
She put the club's success in the last year down to the family friendly environment which had been established.
"That really helps lift everything. The kids don't want to miss out on catching up with their friends at events - being involved in activity but whilst creating friendships. That's one of the biggest things I've tried to push because sport's not all about winning and losing, it's about creating lifelong friends too.
"The increase in participation is what it's all about, first and foremost, but you have to provide for everyone. Out of the 340-plus children we have, we have 80-90 who are competitive and go to relay champs and Colgate Games, that sort of stuff.
"It's really good to see the number of children just doing it for that extra bit of active lifestyle, getting healthy and getting out there and having a bit of fun with their friends. It's about including everyone, regardless."
She said the club had a dedicated group of parents and volunteers who helped out regularly but with the incredible growth in participation, the need for volunteers was greater than ever if the club was going to build on this momentum.
"We're trying to get more parents keen on helping out so we can take on more children. We're encouraging parents that they don't have to be qualified coaches, they just have to put their hands up and guide a few kids along. I think it's a confidence thing, all you have to do is give it a go."