On a cold but sunny Tuesday morning in July, the Aims Games committee gathers in a boardroom at Tauranga Intermediate.

Seated around a long table, little flags positioned in a neat line down the middle, there are representatives for each sporting code.

This year there are 22 of them.

Also present are the chairman, tournament director, media liaison, finance manager, secretary and a handful of others, including the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

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A visitor could easily imagine that they have mistakenly stumbled into an Olympic or Commonwealth Games meeting.

There is formality, urgency and efficiency. Both opening ceremony shows are already sold out. The clock is ticking on preparations.

Apologies are given and voted on, minutes taken, feedback and updates sought and directives handed out.

And then, a little over an hour later, the meeting is adjourned and those gathered disperse back out into the winter sun – all of them back to their day jobs.

In a month, they will meet again. The stakes a little bit higher. The 15th Aims Games a little bit closer.

Where it all began

Brian Diver, principal of Tauranga Intermediate and chairman of the Aims Games Trust. Photo / George Novak
Brian Diver, principal of Tauranga Intermediate and chairman of the Aims Games Trust. Photo / George Novak

The Aims Games were born in a blue Ford Falcon on the road to Napier in 2003.

Brian Diver, principal of Tauranga Intermediate, was behind the wheel.

Sitting next to him was his Ōtumoetai Intermediate counterpart, Henk Popping.

They were on their way to a principals' conference and in true road-trip style, were yarning about a shared passion – the state of the intermediate school sector in New Zealand.

"At that time, intermediate schools were getting some bad publicity," Diver told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend this week.

Several intermediate schools had been closed down and he and Popping were discussing what they could do to elevate the image and perception of NZ AIMS (The New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools).

"And I said, well, what about a sports tournament? A competitive sports tournament."

Diver had always been keen on competitive sport. It was something, he says, that was lacking from intermediate schools at the time.

He didn't agree with the era of "no scores and no competition".

So Diver and Popping, on arrival at the conference in Napier, went about lobbying the other principals.

A year later, in September 2004, the first Aims Games was held in Tauranga. Seventeen schools took part.

"And that was enough to give us the momentum to get it going," says Diver, who is now 71.

The two principals could never have envisaged the scale to which the event would grow.

The 2018 Anchor Aims Games, now just five weeks away, has a budget of about $1.3 million and has attracted about $500,000 in sponsorship money alone.

At the inaugural 2004 event, there were 750 students competing. Next month, there will be 10,851 from 326 schools. That's 712 more students than last year.

It has become one of Tauranga's biggest weeks of the year, drawing thousands of people from around New Zealand and overseas and, in doing so, generating national and international exposure for the city and region.

The Aims Games has also become a must-attend event for any keen young athlete wanting to test themselves against the best in their age-group and chosen sport.

"Kids of this age love it," Diver says.

"They love competition; they love to see where they are. And they're actually at a very, very good age to teach winning and losing with dignity."

He says the students take great pride representing their school, whether as individuals or as part of a team.

Some have gone on to great things and national and international honours – not always in the same code.

World-famous sailor Peter Burling played football at the Aims Games.

It is a festival of fun. Of sport. Of new friends. And of old school rivalries.

The Aims Games is also an educational tool.

"Kids no longer just get on the field and play – they know about warming up and warming down, they know about hydration, they know about nutrition. It's fantastic," Diver says.

The milestone partnership with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has played a big part in that.

"We're preparing them for a lifetime of sport. And here's the big difference – not competitive sport necessarily, but sport for the value of the social aspect and the health aspect as they get older."

Diver says that is what the six trustees of the Aims Games Trust, one of which is Henk Popping, are most proud of.

That, and the lifelong memories forged during a week of good, old-fashioned competitive sport.

The Talent

Mischa Boorman from Mount Maunganui Intermediate will compete in rock climbing at this year’s Anchor Aims Games. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
Mischa Boorman from Mount Maunganui Intermediate will compete in rock climbing at this year’s Anchor Aims Games. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Mischa Boorman can be found scaling the walls of her bedroom most nights of the week.

The 11-year-old Mount Maunganui Intermediate student is preparing for her first Anchor Aims Games.

"I'm really excited," she says.

"I'm competing against older kids so I'm going to try my best but I won't be disappointed if I don't get a placing."

Mischa, in Year 7, is a rock climber.

She fell in love with the sport about two years ago at a birthday party at Rocktopia, a rock climbing gym in Mount Maunganui.

Rocktopia is the venue for rock climbing at this year's Aims Games. It's the first new code to be introduced in two years and will have 150 competitors.

"It's really fun and there are challenges and you've got to just keep calm on the wall," Mischa says.

"I don't really get nervous but I do have a lot to work on, but I'm getting there, getting stronger."

She trains twice a week at Rocktopia and every night on the rock climbing wall in her bedroom. That's right. In her bedroom.

"It's on two walls. So you can set problems for yourself and challenge yourself."

One wall is blue and the other is orange. Her dad made them from wood, with climbing holds stuck on. Mischa helped paint them.

She says her mum sometimes catches her after bedtime climbing on the wall in her PJs.

"I'm kind of obsessed with rock climbing," Mischa says, with a laugh.

She's looking forward to "climbing and meeting kids from all over" at the Aims Games and wanted to say "good luck to everybody out there".

Another first-timer this year is Noah Grove from Matahui School, a small private rural school near Katikati.

The 12-year-old is a member of the school's six-a-side mixed hockey team.

He hasn't played hockey before, and neither has anyone in his family.

"Joining a new school and then learning how to play hockey – I got inspired by it," Noah says.

He met fellow Year 8 student Hugo Bruning at the start of the year and the two boys are now best mates. They're into all the same stuff, like hunting and sports.

Two best mates from Matahui School, Noah Grove (left) and Hugo Bruning, are both competing in hockey at the 2018 Anchor Aims Games. Photo / John Borren
Two best mates from Matahui School, Noah Grove (left) and Hugo Bruning, are both competing in hockey at the 2018 Anchor Aims Games. Photo / John Borren

"Me and Hugo are practising every day and we have Aims practice on Wednesdays and we try and convince the rest of the team to come out," Noah says.

"We've been practising hard and it gets a bit tiring. But you get used to it.

"We want to do well in the Aims and be the best that we can be. We'll give it 110 per cent."

Hugo, who played hockey for Matahui School at last year's Aims Games, says he and Noah have been practising "like all the time" – in the mornings before school, at morning tea, at lunch.

Last year's Aims Games were "really, really fun".

"We came 16th which was really good.

"We're really lucky because some schools, because they've got so many people, they've got to pick and choose but because we're such a small school everyone gets to have a go at it."

Matahui School teacher Paul Evans says the two boys are "really, really enthusiastic".

"I think they're just looking forward to the challenge. Small school but kids with big hearts."

Evans says the competitive nature of the Aims Games is important.

"It's teaching them to get in there and fight for their space and learn how to fight and win and come out on top. It's a good thing for them, a good life lesson."

But life lessons acquired during the Aims Games are not only for those competing, as five over-70s are about to find out.

The Hosts

Pāpāmoa neighbours (l-r) Des Remihana, Terry Hurdle, Raewyn Hurdle, Maggie Thomson and Barb Remihana. Photo / John Borren
Pāpāmoa neighbours (l-r) Des Remihana, Terry Hurdle, Raewyn Hurdle, Maggie Thomson and Barb Remihana. Photo / John Borren

Three households on Grenada St in Pāpāmoa have volunteered to host the Anchor Aims Games' Tongan contingent – and they all can't wait for their guests to arrive.

Terry and Raewyn Hurdle, Des and Barb Remihana and Maggie Thomson will welcome into their homes four athletes and five of their family members from the Polynesian kingdom.

There will be three boys, one aged 12 and two aged 13, and one girl aged 11. All four will take part in the swimming and one boy will also compete in cross country.

The neighbours will also host three mums, a dad and a sister.

"We're nice and handy which is really good and we're all excited to do it," Terry Hurdle says.

The 76-year-old says he and his neighbours are planning to have meals and barbecues together and are trying to find out what the youngsters like to do.

"We're going to be down there every day with them and taking them wherever, which is going to be bloody exciting – to see how they go," he says.

"It's absolutely amazing what's going to be organised for 11,000 children. It's just something out of this world."

His wife Raewyn, 73, says she has always enjoyed being involved with sport and has always encouraged children to participate.

Like Terry, she is looking forward to being a part of an event "that will help the community grow".

Maggie Thomson, 73, is a widow and has fond memories of Tonga.

"I've been to Tonga and my husband did a lot of business with the Tongans ... their culture is very friendly and it's laid back. I just loved it there."

The three Grenada St households will have an open-door policy during Aims Games week so the kids can come and go as they please.

They also want to stock up the pantry and find out what food the athletes like.

Barb Remihana, 73, has been doing some research into the Tongan language online, learning how to say hello and other basics.

"I'm looking forward to meeting different people from a different culture. And also I had my grandchildren both go to Aims Games a few years ago, so it'll be nice to see somebody else competing in it. It was a really good, fun time."

The neighbours are passionate about helping keep the event in Tauranga and are all first-time volunteers at the Aims Games.

That kind of generosity and creativity when it comes to accommodation is needed and is being seen more and more as the event continues to grow.

Finding a place for everyone to stay

St Bernard's College Aims Games athlete Sam Kilduff thanks Elizabeth Glas who billeted him at her Greenwood Park Retirement Village home last year. Photo / Andrew Warner
St Bernard's College Aims Games athlete Sam Kilduff thanks Elizabeth Glas who billeted him at her Greenwood Park Retirement Village home last year. Photo / Andrew Warner

Accommodation is an ongoing challenge the Aims Games organisers face.

Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne says while the event brings thousands of visitors to the Bay of Plenty – increasing patronage and business for the region's tourism, retail and hospitality industries – it does stretch Tauranga's accommodation sector.

Annual economic benefit studies have shown that in both 2014 and 2015, the tournament generated 37,500 visitor nights. In 2016, it generated 47,500 and last year likely saw another significant increase, with competitor numbers climbing above 10,000 for the first time.

Dunne says commercial accommodation providers are at capacity during Aims Games week.

Last year, she said the region's commercial supply would not be able to cope with the growing demand and success of events such as the Aims Games, which had also resulted in a boom in unmonitored or private accommodation.

In 2017, accommodation websites Airbnb and Bookabach had significant spikes in bookings during Aims Games week when compared with previous years.

Gareth Wallis, Tauranga City Council's manager of city events, says organisers have been engaging as many accommodation providers as possible, including hotels, motels and camping grounds, local marae, sports clubs and schools, as well as hundreds of private homes.

"Last year, we saw a 78-year-old Welcome Bay resident convince fellow Greenwood Park lifestyle village residents to open their homes to students participating in the championship," Wallis says.

"This welcoming approach reinforces that Tauranga locals are proud hosts of the Aims Games."

This year Greenwood Park is welcoming back the same school.

Aims Games organisers acknowledge the accommodation challenge but insist there is no risk of the event moving to different city.

"While we've got myself as chairperson and our current trustees, there's no danger of that happening," Brian Diver says.

"Tauranga is absolutely unique – although we do have our traffic problems – in that we can actually get ourselves around relatively quickly because our venues are close to one another."

Tournament director Vicki Semple, who has been on board since the beginning and helped get the Aims Games off the ground, agrees.

"We always want to make sure we keep the event in Tauranga and I think the support we get from the Tauranga City Council – from the mayor, the events team, the parks and reserves team – they're just honestly amazing."

Plus, accommodation isn't the first issue associated with growth that Aims Games organisers have had to overcome.

Managing waste

Everything about the event has ballooned dramatically over the past 15 years, including the amount of waste it produces.

Aims Games organisers were conscious of the issue as the tournament grew and in 2011 Tauranga company Waste Watchers was brought on board to manage the rubbish.

Each year Waste Watchers trains about 40 students from the four Tauranga intermediates, often children who normally wouldn't participate.

The students look after about 70 recycling stations across the various sites and venues and help the public sort through their waste.

"They love it. It's a great event to be a part of and they are a part of it; they're out working in it and playing a really important role," Waste Watchers director Marty Hoffart says.

Waste Watchers collects about two tonnes of waste from the recycling stations during Aims Games week and more than half of it is composted and recycled.

"It might not sound like a lot, but packaging is pretty light and each bag only weighs a few kgs, so it's a lot of bags," Hoffart says.

More than 12,000 coffee cups were composted from just one of the vendors on site last year. Vendors have to sign an agreement to ensure packaging is compostable and recyclable.

Waste Watchers sent more than 15 cubic metres (15,500 litres) of compostable packaging to a local composting facility last year.

All the recyclable material is collected each morning and sorted at Waste Management's Te Maunga facility.

"Ninety-nine per cent of people totally support this," Hoffart says.

"People love to see recycling at events now and they actually expect it. It's just letting them know the stations are there. If people understand what's going on, they're happy to comply."

There are, he says, still good markets for the recyclable material collected at the Aims Games and more work will be done this year with schools, especially groups setting up around marquees, to encourage them not to bring their own rubbish bags.

All council litter bins will be covered with PVC covers made from old billboards.

"We want to have a huge event but we also don't want to make a huge amount of rubbish doing it," Hoffart says.

Another sustainability measure introduced this year will mean no hard-copy tournament booklets. Usually 13,000 are printed. The booklet will instead be available online.

It is one of many ways the Aims Games is adapting and evolving and the woman behind a lot of those new initiatives is director Vicki Semple.

Looking ahead

Aims Games tournament director Vicki Semple. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
Aims Games tournament director Vicki Semple. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

On her first day at Sport Bay of Plenty in 2004, Vicki Semple walked into the office and was immediately given an assignment.

Dame Susan Devoy was chief executive at the time and told Semple her first job was to meet with some local principals who were wanting to start a sports tournament.

Brian Diver attributes a lot of the growth and success of the Aims Games to Semple, who he has worked closely with from day one.

Semple is quick to return the credit.

"Brian's been a huge mentor for me. He's extremely supportive and always backs me up and puts a lot of trust in some of the initiatives I want to implement."

Three years ago she left Sport Bay of Plenty to become fulltime Aims Games director. She is still the only fulltime employee.

"I just feel so privileged to be in my role and to work with such passionate, incredible people. The growth of the Aims Games has been a huge team effort."

Semple has initiated a lot of change at the helm.

The Aims Games is open to all emerging adolescents in New Zealand and overseas irrespective of where they're educated.

This year there are competitors from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Australia.

Last year para sports were introduced.

The first Aims Games had just four sport codes – football, hockey, cross country and netball.

Now the size and number of sports codes have to be carefully contained and managed with facilities not big enough to cope.

Semple says it is fortunate local businesses, as well as big corporates such as naming sponsor Fonterra, get behind the event.

Aims Games competitors will this year get deals at all Bay Venues sites as well as an Event Cinemas special preview sceening.

And thanks to the regional and city councils, there will be three park and ride buses looping 16 hours a day between different venues and some local hotspots.

Those buses are free for everybody and competitors can also get on any bus in Tauranga at no cost.

"It's such a massive community event and I think that's what makes it so special to Tauranga," says Semple.

"It's so unique. You don't realise how many cogs in the wheel there are."

The 2018 Anchor Aims Games will run from September 9-14.