For the last 85 years, the Kurangaituku Netball Tournament has been a highlight on the Rotorua Netball calendar.

The 86th edition of the ever-popular tournament, which starts on Friday, is no different with 353 teams registered to compete.

On Friday and Saturday this week, 150 C, D, E and F grade teams will compete. On September 6-7, 131 A, B, C and D grade teams will be in action. On September 14-15, the tournament will wrap up with the secondary school grades in which there are 72 teams entered.

The end-of-season celebration of netball, run by a hard-working group of organisers and volunteers, was first held in 1933 with six local teams entered. It's growth since then has been phenomenal.

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The secondary school tournament, added to the event 25 years ago, has seen the most growth this year, increasing from 51 teams from 2018.

Rotorua Netball secretary Mary Thompson said the tournament was unique in that it catered for netball players of all abilities.

"The entries fill up every year, we're at capacity. There are lots of tournaments for golden oldies and international tournaments but not for every day club teams.

"We've got some Australian teams in the secondary school tournament and we've actually had inquiries already from some senior Australian teams who want to compete in next year's tournament."

Ngongotahā Flyers' Kiara Paul, 11, (left) catches the ball during last year's Kurangaituku secondary school netball tournament. Photo / File
Ngongotahā Flyers' Kiara Paul, 11, (left) catches the ball during last year's Kurangaituku secondary school netball tournament. Photo / File

She believed secondary school netball participation in the sport overall was concerning, so it was good to see so many teams entered.

"It gives the lower graded teams a tournament to play in because all the A team and representative players go off to upper-North Islands and nationals. This gives the others a chance to play in a tournament because there just aren't many for them anymore.

"They get that bonding experience, not just with their own teams but with the teams they play against as well."

With 353 teams all playing at least eight games over three weekends, draw steward Pat Wyatt has had her hands full. She said one of the highlights was seeing a lot of teams from smaller New Zealand towns getting involved.

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"We've got teams from places like Taumarunui and Taihape coming to play against some different teams. At home on a Saturday, they probably play each other about four times during the season.

"Hopefully they all get good games, we try to grade them accordingly. We also try to grade them so they don't end up in the same sections as those teams they do play all year. There are a lot of different factors that go into the draw, we put a lot of thought into it."

Mount Sports Gold wing attack Sarah Money (left) claims the ball ahead of Hinemoa Point centre Kahukura Morgan-Rangikataua during last year's Kurangaituku Netball Tournament. Photo / File
Mount Sports Gold wing attack Sarah Money (left) claims the ball ahead of Hinemoa Point centre Kahukura Morgan-Rangikataua during last year's Kurangaituku Netball Tournament. Photo / File

Pukekohe's Maree Wallace has been playing in the Kurangaituku tournament for 40 years and looked forward to it every time.

"It's great because it's the end of our season and we like to get down there, some of us take our partners and husbands and it's just a bit of a weekend away.

"Each year we meet up with people we've gotten to know along the way. It's always been a good tournament, we've enjoyed the games."

She said the amount of work the organisers put into the tournament was clear to all the players. This year is the first time the tournament would be held since a full resurfacing of the Westbrook Netball Courts was completed.

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"It is a very well run tournament, they do a great job. I remember when we first played at Kuirau Park - the courts were sort of up and down, there were tree roots coming through, so it's great to have nice new courts now."