Thousands of entries have poured in for this year's Anchor AIMS Games - the largest intermediate-aged sports tournament in the southern hemisphere.
Organisers of the week-long tournament are not allowing overseas school entries this year due to health and safety advice.
Despite this, the September event has received more than 11,000 entries - down just 500 from 2019 - after the 2020 games were cancelled due to Covid-19.
To date, more than 350 schools have entered, including 91 for the first time - slightly less than 361 schools in 2019, which included 20 from overseas.
Business leaders say the expected arrival of more than 25,000 athletes, officials and supporters would "undoubtedly" be a welcome boost for tourism, hospitality and retail.
Tournament director Vicki Semple said it was "an incredible response" given the "incredible uncertainty" surrounding sports a year ago.
"It shows just how much appetite is out there for this kind of event, where people can get back to some normalcy, reward young athletes with a week of fun and camaraderie and enjoy all that Tauranga has to offer."
Post-lockdown, the event has had big increases in individual outdoors sports such as golf and mountain biking.
Golf entries had jumped to 126 from 71 in 2019 and the number of mountain bike riders had risen to 327 from 199 when the sporting code debuted in 2019.
Bay of Plenty CoachForce golf officer Mike Campbell said junior memberships in the Bay increased 22 per cent in the past year and rounds played so far in 2021 were 56 per cent up on 2020.
"So golf, in general, is really flying."
Netball entries had also climbed to 128 teams - or 1536 athletes - from 126 in 2019.
Rugby added another 144 players following a spike in Rippa Rugby - to 42 teams from 30 in 2019.
The boys' basketball division and shortened 3x3 game had each seen overall numbers edge to 1229 from 1191, while six-aside hockey entries had jumped to 95 from 85.
Para-athletes will also be well represented in cross country and swimming.
Next year, indoor cricket would also be added to the games to become the 24th sporting code.
Semple said the AIMS Games Trust board had approved indoor cricket's inclusion recently following a compelling case from Indoor Cricket New Zealand and New Zealand Cricket.
"We're really looking forward to including indoor cricket in our AIMS Games family," she said.
Indoor cricket code coordinator Andrew Templer, who owns the Bay Indoor Centre, said it was an exciting time for the sport following New Zealand's ICC world test championship win against India last week.
But, he said, there was a lot of work to be done in the next 14 months before indoor cricket's debut at the AIMS Games.
"Cricket is on an absolute high at the moment and it's especially significant that so many of our Black Caps stars are based around the Bay of Plenty, acting as role models to the next generation.
"Getting indoor cricket into the AIMS Games is huge, not only for the depth of the sport itself but to also expose all those young cricketers to the amazing benefits of being involved in a tournament of this size."
Papamoa Primary School pupil Joel O'Hara, 10, who watched his older brothers Jesse and Levi compete at previous AIMS Games, said he was "kinda nervous but also pretty excited" to be able to play indoor cricket next year.
AIMS Games Trust chairman and Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping thanked the Tauranga City Council for its support in helping the games return for 2021.
"All the schools that have participated in the past have returned from all over New Zealand, which is great to see."
Popping said the school had more than 350 students participating in this year's event across all sporting codes and he was excited to introduce indoor cricket in 2022.
"We've got cricketers who are really keen, especially with Kane Williamson [Black Caps captain] being an ex-student of ours, and wanting to follow in his footsteps."
Tourism Bay of Plenty acting chief executive Oscar Nathan said this year's games would likely have heightened excitement after the 2020 cancellation.
Nathan said the 2019 tournament increased Western Bay's regional output by $6.5 million and generated 74,787 visitor nights.
"This is undoubtedly a much-welcomed boost for the tourism sector here, and particularly in this traditionally off-peak season."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said AIMS Games was the most important item on Tauranga's event calendar.
"Eleven thousand athletes, plus their entourages, staying here for over a week is massive for our economy, especially in the quieter spring months.
"A week-long tournament of this size has much greater economic benefits than massive events only here for a night."
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said visitor numbers over the AIMS Games week were excellent for local hospitality, retail and accommodation providers, who traditionally get a good bump.
"Sport is a big part of our community and AIMS Games is a great showcase for our region to the rest of the country."
The 2021 Anchor AIMS Games will run from September 4-10 at a range of venues across the Western Bay of Plenty.
The premier sporting event for 11, 12 and 13-year-olds is a strategic partnership between Sport Bay of Plenty, Tauranga City Council and the four Western Bay of Plenty intermediate schools, supported by ACC and Sport NZ.
- 2021 Anchor AIMS Games - Tauranga
- September 4-10
- 350 schools
- 23 sports