Taal Smith was introduced to softball by his parents, George and Beryl, when he was 5.

He played competitively until he was 23, making New Zealand under-14, under-19 and under-23 teams, then, after leaving Northland College, spent 10 seasons over six years playing semi-professionally in four countries.

He was back in the diamond at this year's World Masters' Games in Auckland, where he pitched for a North Harbour club team, and won a bronze medal.

Taal (Matarahurahu hapu) grew up in Kaikohe, and sport has always been a big part of his life.

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His father helped to establish junior football in Kaikohe in the 1970s, and both parents were instrumental in the running of local softball and basketball competitions and clubs, with Taal, his siblings and many other local youth going on to feature strongly in those codes locally and further afield.

His sister Dandy won a world boxing championship, and his wife, Cheryl Waaka, won two Rugby World Cups with the Black Ferns.

These days Taal coaches his sons' junior rugby and tee-ball teams, he's the Kaikohe Junior Rugby Club treasurer and chairman of the Kaikohe & District Sportsville Board, which works closely with the Far North District Council, focusing on the opportunity to upgrade the facilities at Lindvart Park.

He plans to continue playing softball, football, basketball and touch, and has high praise for the volunteers who provide sport and opportunities to improve community health and wellbeing.

The district council has now begun working on a management plan for the Lindvart Park reserve, which includes the rugby grounds and the old dump, and borders the cycleway.
A survey has been circulated for wider community consultation, and focus groups are planned to establish what will most benefit the sporting community of Kaikohe.

"There's been a lot of talk of wanting a youth facility in Kaikohe, but Lindvart Park is a youth facility," Taal says.

"We have a solid group of passionate people delivering sport in Kaikohe.

"If we add to that by involving other positive and pro-social groups, and members of our community, by delivering a whole bunch of amazing initiatives then Kaikohe might be able to achieve results similar to a study in Iceland, showing a reduction in crime rates, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour amongst youth."

Those results were achieved by providing options such as after-school sports and arts that increased youth exposure to positive, pro-social role models.

"It is vital that we as a town, whanau and iwi learn to collaborate better for the greater good of the whole community," he says.

"We need to learn from our previous investments, and ensure that all facilities are multi-purpose and can be responsive to the needs of what youth will want now and into the future.

"The Astroturf field was great for the hockey community, and a few other groups have used it, but how many troubled youth have benefited from this multi-million-dollar facility in Kaikohe?

"It is important that our next significant investment in sporting infrastructure provides value to all our local community.

"And sports and recreation providers need to be even more responsive to ensure engagement and participation."

Attracting youth who were not currently engaged in sport, recreation or any pro-social activity was a real challenge, demanding a multi-pronged attack.

"We need to be engaging at a school level, the iwi level, with whanau, with the social services, and even on a government level," Taal says.

"If we can get everyone collaborating and working alongside one another with role models and buddies, hopefully we can get even more kids to come along and get involved, and from that drive more of a positive influence in terms of values, behaviour and culture within our community," he says.

"As long as they're using up their energy and having a positive experience and learning to form relationships, then the social outcomes will flow.

"The trouble at the moment is that there is a sub-culture in the community that doesn't feel a part of overall society. We see some youth riding their horses or quads on the park; how do we engage and make them feel welcome?"

Taal recalled a district council manager telling him almost 10 years ago that the main reason Kaikohe had nothing of significance for the whole community was that no one had remained consistently involved, especially in terms of maintaining relationships.

"I have kept that in mind with all the committees that we have had leading up to the formation of Sportsville," he says.

"It's really encouraging that our mayor, John Carter, and FNDC staff are getting in behind us with support and empowerment. They can really see the value for the community of getting more people collaborating together.

"There's too much of people working in isolation, especially in small towns. They do well within their isolation, but we could do so much better."