A new competition will get under way across Tauranga and Mount Maunganui this week in a bid to keep youth engaged in sport as they begin their secondary years.

The inaugural Blue Light U15 Games, which starts today and runs until Friday, is targeted to students in Years 9 and 10 and is prompted by the concern of school teachers and sports directors identifying this age group as a key time for students to disengage from sport due to the lack of opportunities for them to compete at a non-elite level.

Organised by New Zealand Blue Light - the only youth charity that works in partnership with the New Zealand Police - the U15 Games will see hundreds of Year 9 and 10 students compete in four codes including touch rugby, fast five netball, futsal and golf. These events will be based at the Harbourside Netball Centre, ASB Arena, Mount Maunganui Golf Course and the Arataki Rugby fields.

New Zealand Blue Light national programme manager and tournament organiser Hannah Ward said being involved in sports wasn't just about playing.

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She hoped the tournament would also expose participants to other areas youth could be involved in from umpiring and administration to managing and organising events. To highlight those opportunities, Ward says young people will be officiating the events.

"It's important to us that we have that engagement," she said. "Sport is such a great way to develop leadership and teamwork. It's about engaging youth holistically."

Ward, who is a sports enthusiast herself playing club rugby for Rangiuiru, says sports has given her a lot of opportunities over the years from leadership, representation and travel.
"It gives you confidence."

To mark the beginning of the tournament, an opening ceremony for all teams will be held at Mt Drury this evening, with competition starting on Thursday morning. Uniformed police officers will help run the tournament, with a police dog demonstration being part of the opening event.

There are more than 300 competitors taking part, including students from Tauranga's Aquinas College, Tauranga Girls' College, Tauranga Boys' College, Papamoa College and Te Wharekura o Mauao, as well as coaches, volunteers and supporters. It is hoped to grow in coming years.

Ward says initially, the competition will remain in Tauranga but they would be keen to see if it could be increased to being offered in three different regions.

A key component of the games is the inclusion of all young people, including those enrolled in alternative education, youth organisations or Blue Light branches. For many it is their only opportunity to participate in an organised sporting event.

Ward says engaging students at institutes or those who are homeschooled is important so they have the opportunity to gain experience and the benefits of participating in the sports competitions, along with mainstream schools.

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Fun, fair play and whānau are core values of the tournament, which has been timed to motivate student attendance until the end of the year and provide an event to look forward to when senior students are on study leave or have left for the year.

Participating schools:
Aquinas College
Tauranga Girls' College
Tauranga Boys' College
Papamoa College
Te Wharekura o Mauao
Mahurangi College
North Harbour Blue Light Branch
Raglan School

By the numbers:
Fast five netball: 10 teams with about 100 competitors
Futsal: 10 teams with about 100 competitors
Touch rugby: 11 teams with about 130 competitors
Golf: 2 competitors
Crew and Volunteers: About 50