New Zealand Defence Force civilian Mike Gray has been named Sports Coach of the Year at the New Zealand Defence Force sports awards.
Based in Kāpiti, Mike has been working with the NZDF for more than 30 years and is currently a senior desktop engineer in the IT department.
Mike coached the Wellington Air Force mixed netball team to an undefeated victory in the Inter-Base Netball Tournament and the Royal New Zealand Air Force mixed team who finished runners-up in the Inter-Service Tournament.
He is the head coach for the NZDF mixed netball, Royal New Zealand Air Force mixed netball and Wellington Air Force mixed netball teams and the club captain for Wellington Air Force Netball Club.
Moving to Kāpiti three years ago, Mike is a Netball Kapiti umpire coach and mentor and a coach for Paraparaumu College Netball.
"My family moved to Kāpiti three years ago and I approached the Kāpiti netball community to see how I could be involved.
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"I quickly took up the challenge of becoming part of the umpire development programme then helped out coaching the U15 Kāpiti representative team and Paraparaumu College junior A team."
With a passion for netball which started over 25 years ago, Mike first started playing mixed indoor netball socially, then competitively before eventually playing in the New Zealand national competitions.
When his eldest daughter started playing outdoor netball he became involved in coaching at a school and junior representative level and during this time also began coaching women's netball at club level, playing mixed netball for NZDF and started on his journey to becoming a NZ-level umpire.
"Promoting NZDF mixed netball has been a crusade for me over the past 12 years, seeing it develop has been incredibly satisfying.
"Netball is generally thought of as a women's sport.
"In the early days there was lots of raw athletic talent and as a player/coach and umpire, I was able to help develop not only their skills but an understanding of the game and build teams that fostered the NZDF spirit of camaraderie."
A big year for men's and mixed netball, the broadcasted and internationally recognised series the New Zealand men's team played earlier this year was a huge step in the exposure of the men's game.
"I hope the recent televised match between the New Zealand men's team and the Silver Ferns has given New Zealand a different view of the sport.
"What many people probably don't realise is that men's and mixed netball is a growing sport and is played at all levels with a men's and mixed national tournament held every year.
"Receiving this award is a great honour.
"I'm proud that the level of commitment I have given to netball has been recognised at the highest level.
"This award also represents the hard work and trust that the netball community has entrusted in me to develop netball to the best of my ability."
In winning the award, Mike paid tribute to his players and management team, and said it had been a 12-year push to get mixed netball recognised as an official NZDF sport.
"It's been really great to see from where it started to where it is now, where the players are and how strong netball is within the NZDF.
"This couldn't have been done without the support from many past and present international players within the military who also shared their experiences and a fantastic management team.
"It's been an awesome trip to be part of.
"It's great to see that mixed netball is heading in the right direction."