Thousands of young athletes are in town this week for the city's biggest intermediate-aged sporting tournament. But back in 2004 when former Tauranga Intermediate School principal Brian Diver was the tournament chairman, there were only a few hundred children competing. Now, the reins have been handed over to a new chairman as the city hosts more than 11,500 pupils at the peak of the tournament. Reporter Zoe Hunter speaks to Otumoetai Intermediate School principal about his new role as the new tournament chairman.
It was an idea that originated from inside a Ford Falcon. Now it is Tauranga's biggest intermediate-aged sporting event.
As thousands of young athletes are in town for the annual AIMS Games, Otumoetai Intermediate School principal Henk Popping remembers the day the seed was first planted.
It was 2003 and Popping was driving to Napier in former Tauranga Intermediate School principal Brian Diver's blue Ford Falcon.
The principals were heading to the New Zealand Association of Middle Schools conference and chatting about how to lift the profile of intermediate-aged sport in the region.
"At that time, intermediate schools were getting some bad publicity," Popping said.
"Because we were both keen on sports and we have got this friendly rivalry across town, we thought why not start a national sports tournament and pit them against the best in New Zealand."
Fellow school leaders were all on board when the principals pitched the idea at the national conference.
Back in Tauranga, Popping and Diver met with Sport Bay of Plenty and the Tauranga City Council to get the ball rolling.
By September 2004, the first AIMS Games was held with 27 schools and 750 athletes competing across four sports.
Popping's son took part in the inaugural tournament in the boys' hockey final against Napier's Taradale Intermediate.
"I still remember that," he said. "It was a penalty shootout and Taradale Intermediate won that. Our boys came second in the very first tournament."
From that day forward, the tournament has grown to include more than 11,500 athletes from around New Zealand and the Pacific competing in 23 different sports.
But the AIMS Games has evolved to encompass more than sports.
"The students learn about warming up, warming down injury prevention, hydration and nutrition," Popping said.
The milestone partnership with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) had played a big part in that.
"We're preparing them for a lifetime of sport," Popping said. "Not just competitive sport, but sport for the value of the social and health benefits as they get older."
Popping had now taken the reins as the AIMS Games chairman after Diver retired last year.
Popping said the responsibility is shared among six trustees of the Aims Games Trust - but his role is to keep an oversight of the games, talk to visiting schools and keep an ear on the ground.
Stepping into the role at the peak of the tournament, Popping said there is more to come for the AIMS Games.
That next step included working with Sport New Zealand to grow the games into an event of national importance by 2021.
Popping said while there wasn't always 100 per cent support at the beginning, the tournament was now a must-attend event for keen young athletes.
"Now people want to be part of it," he said. "It is unbelievable. We just never dreamed it would get to the extent that it has."
As far as the future goes, Popping said the games would always be a Tauranga event.
"It is a legacy event," he said.
Tournament director Vicki Semple remembered her first day at Sport Bay of Plenty in 2004 and being assigned her first job from the chief executive at the time, Dame Susan Devoy.
Semple met with Popping and Diver about the national sports tournament initiative.
"Now I have ended up with the best job in the world," she said.
Back then, Semple and her children used to staple the tournament booklet together on the lounge floor. Never in a million years did she dream it would be this big.
Coast Breakfast host Brian Kelly said Semple came in for a radio interview back when the tournament was called the New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools tournament.
"That was a hell of a mouthful," he said.
So he coined the phrase AIMS Games in 2005. "That's how it started and it stuck," he said. "From that day on it has been known as the AIMS Games."
AIMS Games trustees:
Mount Maunganui Intermediate principal Lisa Morresey
Te Puke Intermediate principal Jill Weldon
Tauranga Intermediate's Cameron Mitchell
Sport BOP's Heidi Lichtwark
REAL Chartered Accountants' Rob Egan