The greatness of any culture, it is often said, is found in its festivals.

For hockey in Hawke's Bay, the annual Big Save-sponsored Small Sticks Festival not only provides a platform for youngsters within the province to refine and rebuild their character but also beckons peers from other centres around North Island.

"It's just a festival we use to allow kids the opportunity to play hockey in the holidays," says Hawke's Bay Hockey community manager Andrea Cullen of the three-day event which started at the Park Island, Napier, turfs today.

"Instead of having adults running it, the kids umpire and run the festival and everything else that happens," says Cullen after the festival lured 19 teams during the July school holiday, comprising close to 200 youngsters with an almost 50-50 gender split.

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She said the numbers had to be capped to keep the festival manageable in the five years she had been involved with it.

It has enticed five year 3 and 4 sides and 14 year 5 and 6 ones from the Bay, Taupō, Gisborne, Levin and Wellington.

Children from 11 to 19 endeavour to have fun in a safe environment where they learn to build a rapport to ensure everything runs maturely and smoothly.

While the outcome from matches isn't important Makaraka School, of Gisborne, and Brooklyn Geckos, of Wellington, have taken the lead in the grading games heading into tomorrow and Saturday's division play involving the year 5 and 6 competition at the Park Island Hockey Stadium.

The Brooklyn Geckos, of Wellington, have the girls on one side and the boys on the other but they function like a green machine on the turf after taking the lead in the grading games. Photo/supplied
The Brooklyn Geckos, of Wellington, have the girls on one side and the boys on the other but they function like a green machine on the turf after taking the lead in the grading games. Photo/supplied

Cullen said with youngsters in every age group assuming responsibilities in all facets of hockey it helps them build individual templates but also learn to interact with others in a festive atmosphere.

Should the young and restless eventually embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery on turf-dom as players, officials and administrators then so be it otherwise, if nothing, they take those life skills into adulthood to share their experiences with future generations as a healthy lifestyle choice.

The festival is blessed with fine weather even with a forecast of late afternoon rain and northwesterlies tomorrow clearing to a crisp Saturday winter morning, not that water is a problem with sprinklers turned on to cushion the turf.

On the competitive stage, eight Bay schoolgirls were pivotal in helping the region's flagship team, Central, claim the crown at the Vantage National Under-18 women's tournament in Wellington last week.

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They are Kaitlin Cotter, Rileigh Knapp, Hannah Cotter, Bella Greig, Georgia Mayo, Ruby Roberts, Summer Gray and Mikeely Jones.

The Central side beat Capital 3-2, Northland 6-2 and North Harbour 4-1 before stumbling 4-2 to Auckland before a 2-all stalemate but coming out 3-1 victors in the ensuing shootout.

However, the champions avenged their loss in defeating Auckland 3-1 in the final.
Kaitlin Cotter was the tourney's top goal scorer with 11, six adrift of younger sister Hannah Cotter who was among the top 10.

In the equivalent men's age-group tourney at the same venue, the Sean Findlay, Marcus Ambrose, George Bergman, Luke Elmes, Shaun Bignell-Tupara, William Kerr and Samuel Porter-Samuel flew the Bay flag for Central who had to settle for second place after Canterbury pipped them 2-1 in the final.

The Central blokes had pipped North Harbour 4-3, registered a scoreless draw against hosts Capital but had emerged 3-2 victors in the ensuing shootout.

They then had another 4-all stalemate against Southland but emulated their shootout result in the previous encounter.

Mahora School, of Hastings, show what it is like to be caught up in a festive atmosphere. Photo/supplied
Mahora School, of Hastings, show what it is like to be caught up in a festive atmosphere. Photo/supplied

Unlike their female counterparts, the males had lost 4-1 to Canterbury in pool play and couldn't reverse their misfortunes before beating Auckland 3-1.

Ironically it was Lucca Burley, moving from the Bay to continue his academic pursuits in Christchurch since last year, who was pivotal as Canterbury's top goal scorer with eight.

In the men's U18 national association tourney at Pukekohe, the Bay finished 15th after one win, 3-0, over Thames Valley in the last game after losing 3-0 to Manawatu-Horowhenua, 3-1 to Wellington as well as the Bay of Plenty, 4-0 to North Harbour and 2-1 to North Harbour B.

In the equivalent female age-group nationals at Timaru, the Bay finished ninth equal.

They beat Waikato 3-1, drew 2-all with Tasman, lost 3-1 to Manawatu, beat Southland 2-0, had Tauranga's measure at 3-1 and then drew 2-all with North Harbour.

It's the Hawke's Bay flavour to the Central age-group team who won the national under-18 women's tournament in Wellington last week. Photo/Planet Hockey
It's the Hawke's Bay flavour to the Central age-group team who won the national under-18 women's tournament in Wellington last week. Photo/Planet Hockey