The Te Puke district's rural schools are not letting the size of their school rolls stop them from heading to next week's Anchor Aims Games in force.
While Te Puke Intermediate School will have the largest number of participants from the district's schools, rural schools are determined not to let their pupils miss out on the massive sporting event in Tauranga.
Te Ranga School punched well above its weight last year, finishing 14th in the mixed six-a-side hockey, the second Bay of Plenty school behind winners Te Puke Intermediate, and is looking to do at least as well this year. The team has a mix of rep players and novices.
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"This is our third time participating," says principal Brendan Wilson.
"Originally we did badminton and this is second year in hockey."
He says that, as the school's intermediate class grows, he hopes to direct more resources to allow greater student participation.
Rangiuru School, with a roll of 39, is developing a tradition in table tennis — and will this year be sending three players.
Year 8 pupil Kyron Bidois is going to his second Aims Games and will be joined by Year 7 students Logan Fowler and Tristan Long.
The tradition can be traced back to a grant from Sport Bay of Plenty that was used to buy a table.
"We are a small school and the cool thing about table tennis is, it isn't a team event," says principal Mike Gullick.
"Most of the time we don't have enough kids to have a rugby team or a hockey team — but this works out really well for us because we don't want them to miss out because we are a small school."
He says Kyron is one to watch.
"He's by far the best player in the school — I suppose you know you've done your job when they start beating you."
Pongakawa School also has a pupils attending Aims Games for the second time.
Indoor bowler Aidan McGettigan, who plays for a senior men's team in Pukehina, finished 12th last year.
"We have high hopes for him this year," says deputy principal Mike Judd.
A three-strong gymnastics team has members who have put in strong performances in recent Te Puke competitions and the school will also be competing in girls' futsal, mixed hockey, multisport, performance group and table tennis.
"It's also a good experience for the students to be involved in such a big sporting event and a good chance for them to play against other schools from all around the country."
Ōtamarākau principal Andrea Dance is in a situation in stark contrast to a year ago.
The school will be sending a 17-strong indoor bowls team. Dance started in her role last week, coming from the almost 1300-student Albany Junior High School that sends up to 300 students to Aims Games.
"It doesn't matter how many children you send, the experience is the same. Just to be part of an event like that gives them a taste of the camaraderie that big sports events can give children. It doesn't matter the size of school, they all get the same out of participating."
Taking part in indoor bowls gives all eligible students the chance to be part of the event.
"Our numbers are small, so football team, as much as we would love to, and that is a goal — but bowls gives a chance for everybody, it doesn't matter what level of ability they are at."
Nikau Priest from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Te Matai played golf at last year's Aims Games and finished mid-pack.
"He was happy with that," says mum Ang Wihapi-Priest, who is also school principal. He will be joined this year by fellow golfer Wilson Simmonds.
Wihapi-Priest says that while Nikau has continued to play golf over the past 12 months, a knee injury and other sports means he hasn't played as much.
Te Puke Intermediate School has enjoyed success at previous Aims Games, winning the boys' sevens competition two years ago and coming fourth last year, and winning the mixed six-a-side hockey last year.
Rugby and netball academies at the school mean there are high hopes in those sports, especially boys' sevens where many members of the squad played in the Te Puke Tai Mitchell Shield-winning team.
The boys' and girls' seven teams have starred in a video to promote Aims Games.
There will also be students competing in boys' basketball, cross country, boys' futsal, gymnastics, indoor bowls, performance group, the newly introduced rock climbing, squash and table tennis.
Te Puke district schools and sports:
■Ōtamarākau School: indoor bowls
■Pongakawa School: girls' futsal, gymnastics, mixed hockey, indoor bowls, multisport, performance group, table tennis.
■Rangiuru School: table tennis
■Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Matai: golf
■Te Puke Intermediate: boys' basketball, cross country, boys' futsal, gymnastics, mixed hockey, indoor bowls, netball, performance group, rock climbing, boys' rugby 7s, girls' rugby 7s, squash, table tennis.
■Te Ranga School: mixed hockey.