Northland's secondary school students are at the forefront of the region's growth in ki o rahi, and a regional competition is only weeks away.
About 30 students and administrators from six schools, Northland College, Te Kura Taumata o Panguru, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro, Taipa Area School, Okaihau College and Springbank School, convened on Northland College last week for an umpiring workshop on the sport.
Ki o rahi is a Māori game where two teams act in two different roles, Kioma and Taniwha, as they compete on a circular field split into zones. The game is a mixture of multiple sports as it requires accurate throwing of the ki (ball), agility and strategy.
Because of the sport's strong ties with Māori culture, different regions in New Zealand often play the game slightly differently with small changes to common rules. Last week's workshop was a chance for Northland's secondary school students to learn how to resolve these differences before a nationally qualifying regional tournament starts in Kaikohe on August 30.
"As other people start to head towards a more standardised version of the rules, the essence of the game gets lost so that's what we are trying to uphold," workshop co-organiser Marcia Aperahama said.
Aperahama a Sport Northland kaiwhakahaere (coordinator) of the Sport New Zealand initiative, He Oranga Poutama. The focus of He Oranga Poutama is to provide tangata whenua opportunities to embrace their cultural identity through physical activity as participants and leaders.
The workshop was held on Northland College's purpose-built ki o rahi field called Te Manawa o Otuhi and involved role-playing where students would need to negotiate and resolve different interpretations of the game's rules.
Aperahama said the goal was to aid the students to become more independent and give them the skills to come to an agreement in those situations.
"The aim is to see the players exercise their own rangatiratanga [authority] and I guess it's challenging the norm where they are told what to do and encouraging them to be self-determining," she said.
"We are trying to press to them the importance of understanding how much power they have on the day."
The importance placed on students and their knowledge of the sport could not be understated. In 2020, Northland will host its first national secondary school ki o rahi competition in its nine-year history.
Two Northland school teams attended the national competition in 2019 in Hawke's Bay. Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe finished 31st in the 34-team competition while Okaihau College finished 14th.
With more local teams likely to qualify for nationals next year, Aperahama said the workshops and regional competition would help plant seeds towards a shift in how ki o rahi is played and understood in Te Tai Tokerau.
"In all honesty, I think regionals will be just the beginning, it's not going to change overnight because it's shifting the way that sports and a lot of education is delivered to them.
"I saw the students at the nationals from Okaihau and Kaikohe and I could see the concentration, they were so engaged and I could tell that it just resonated with them how far the game can go."
Aperahama hoped the game would build on the upcoming events and become a popular sport in Northland communities of all ages and cultures.
"The end game is that whānau are teaching ki o rahi and hosting events in the way that is relevant to them without it being lead by a mainstream organisation, it'll be the community."