They say time passes quickly when you are enjoying yourself. I must be enjoying myself as I can't belief that 45 years have passed since the inaugural New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country held at Cuthbert's Green Christchurch in June 1974.
It also happened to be my first coaching/managerial trip with the Wanganui Collegiate team and the whole trip was made more memorable by the team winning the senior boys team race.
There have been 44 championships at venues throughout New Zealand including three times in Whanganui.
In Taupo at the most recent championships the NZSS treasurer the affable Brad Smith from Tauranga , who I have had the pleasure of sharing managerial responsibility overseas on more than one occasion, presented me with a copy of his 45 year history of New Zealand Schools Cross Country listing all three podium teams in all grades and also the top 10 individuals.
It makes interesting reading and I only wish I had a copy a week ago when I did the preview rather than relying on my memory.
A year ago I listed what I believed were former Whanganui individual title winners. I was corrected in a letter that I had missed Michael Silk (Whanganui High School) from my list and included him with this year's preview. He was, in fact, second in 1980 in Blenheim.
I was also told by a usually reliable source that Duncan Ross (Boys College) did not win a NZSS title.
He did win in Cambridge in 1993 following second place in 1992 and third place in the year before to make him arguably Whanganui's most successful cross country runner, although Martin Holmes (WHS) with consecutive senior victories in 1984 and 1985 might challenge. I also found that I missed Melissa Gilbertson (WHS) 1990 winner from my list.
Smith says it is a work in progress and he looks for corrections. Certainly Wanganui Collegiate can't have taken bronze in the senior girls in 1980 as girls only joined the school as Year 12s and 13s in 1991, a year in which the school was second in the senior girls three-to-score and third in the six-to-score, significant as there were only 45 girls on the school roll. Whanganui Girls College were almost certainly the aforementioned 1980 team.
WGC has on five other occasions been on the podium including a title in the six-to-score junior girls on the Tawhero Golf Course in 1991. Nga Tawa has been on the podium on six occasions including a 3-to-score junior girl's title in 1997. WHS and Whanganui City College have had one podium appearance each while Collegiate has had 67 team podium places with 22 titles.
Wellintgon College, with over 100 team places, tops the leaderboard from Auckland Grammar School while Collegiate are in fourth place, but Westlake Boys High School and Tauranga Girls have won more titles. Collegiate are well ahead of the nearest coed school Burnside High School with less than 30.
Smith's history demonstrates how difficult it is to win titles with many great New Zealand athletes missing out including Nick Willis, the Robertson twins and Kimberley Smith. It also shows students who have gone on to success in other sports have taken part and have probably gained valuable experience from participation.
These include Beuaden Barrett who was 6th in the Year 9 race in Whanganui in 2005 and clearly it did not hold back his rugby. The vast majority of team members of successful teams run as a second sport. The aerobic benefits provide invaluable endurance benefits for their other sports.
Rebecca Baker (WHS), who was included in the NZ paper team, is a top hockey player and faces the decision whether to take a week away from hockey to go to Australia to earn her singlet. Sarah Lambert (Collegiate) plays in the Collegiate hockey team and has decided to take up the offer.
It gets harder for older athletes to combine and make that choice. At younger years I believe they can and should combine.
Nat Kirk (WHS), who finished 5th in the Year 9 boys, is not only a good track athlete but also is an accomplished football player while Ashleigh Alabaster, who like Kirk won a North Island Schools track medal, is key member of the Collegiate Junior A Netball team.
Both can gain much at their age from this wide participation.
I am on my way to the Northern Hemisphere and am scheduled to be at the IAAF Diamond League in Paris at the weekend (purely as an excited spectator). I hope to write fortnightly in the meantime about the sport both at home and on the other side of the world.