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Still got it ... Members of Deception, a North Otago football team, celebrate with their gold medals at the New Zealand Masters Games: back, from left, Matt Haywood, Simon Willetts, Gary Kircher, Neil Jorgensen, Jeremy Holding, Karl Burke, Darrell White; front, Kim Booth, Dan Turbucz, Keith Roach, Stan MacKay, Tiernach Farrell. Absent are Andy Lane, Bruce McCrone, Lloris Engels and Aad van Leeuwen. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

YOUNG ONES …
As you know, this column is an unabashed cheerleader for the exceptionally talented young sportspeople in the Waitaki district.

Pound for pound, I remain convinced we are producing as much sporting talent as any other area in the country, and we should be really proud of that.

But a bloke I know – I will protect his identity, so let’s call him Bobbie Breem – reckons there is cause to be concerned.

He suggests there is a worrying trend for parents of talented sportspeople to send their children to out-of-town schools, and points to the list of nominees in the junior categories in the upcoming Waitaki Sports Awards as proof.

“I just don’t know if enough people realise that we’re going from the ‘little region that could’ to the ‘little region that did’,” he lamented.

… SHOULDN’T …
Hmmm. It’s certainly a discussion point, but I’m not sure we need to go all Chicken Little on it just yet.

For starters, this is nothing new. Small towns and small schools have been losing talented youngsters to bigger fish for decades. Some call it “poaching”, but those involved quietly point out things like “greater opportunities”.

Also, there are still plenty of kids in the sports awards list who attend our local schools. It’s not ENTIRELY populated by the departed.

And, when it boils down to it, who are we to tell, say, Llew Johnson – a wonderful kid and gifted sportsman – that he should not have left Waitaki Boys’ High School for St Andrew’s College three years ago? And how does it affect us, really, that basketball prodigy Nale Fifita has abandoned Waitaki Boys’ for Christ’s College, or that touch maestro Logan Wilson is now at King’s? It’s their choice, not ours.

Most of these youngsters still come back to represent North Otago teams, and virtually all of them remain hugely proud of their home town.

… BE AFRAID
But here’s where I change tack a bit.

The truth is I am always gutted when “our” kids leave. As the editor of this newspaper and a proud old boy of Waitaki, it pains me to see other schools taking our supreme young talent.

It also hurts that in the rural hinterland, for example, there seems to be a general feeling that the Oamaru schools are no longer good enough.

I always point to the examples of Nathan Smith and Mark Taylor, two golden boys whose career aspirations in cricket and rowing respectively were not remotely affected by staying in Oamaru.

Parents will make decisions they feel are best for their children, and that’s how it should be.

But our schools, and this community, must continue to do what they can to provide opportunities and encouragement so families have confidence in staying here.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
As I said last week, I am going start running a regular series of sports photographs from our archives.

I’m also looking into doing a sort of “whatever happened to” series on former sports stars who have fallen off the radar.

If you can recall a gun cricketer from the 1990s, or a national junior athletics champion from the mid-2000s – or anyone, really – who seemed destined for big things but drifted away – send me your suggestions.

MASTERFUL PERFORMANCE
A North Otago football team with a few centuries of combined experience carved up at the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin recently.

The team known as “Deception” (pictured above) played six games of football in three days in the 35-plus age group and charged to the gold medal with five wins, scoring 19 goals and conceding nine.

Matt Haywood and Lloris Engels were joint top goal-scorers with six each, and Andy Lane banged in three.

“It was a very relaxed and social three days where we approached each game with the aim of going out there and enjoying ourselves, no matter what the result was,” spokesman Karl Burke said.

“I think that was a big factor in the team’s success with all 16 squad members getting a good share of game time on the pitch.

“That attitude did not change when it came to the final day with us knowing two wins from our two games would secure us the gold medal. The whole team gave their all in the final game to get the result we needed, and there were some very tired legs by the end of it.”

Anyone else from the district do well at the Masters Games? Send me your photos and details.

ON YA, GROWLER
He missed out on the coaching gong at the Halberg Awards, but things are going well for Glenn Moore.

“Growler”, who led North Otago through a glorious era and later coached the Highlanders, has been re-appointed Black Ferns coach for two more years.

Moore has guided the Black Ferns to 15 wins from 16 tests, and lifted the World Cup last year.

HALLELUJAH
Francois Mostert avoids the media like the plague but it would be churlish of me not to give him his dues just because he declined an interview this week.

What. A. Player.

Greatest cricketer in North Otago history?

GOD HELP US
Speaking of the Halbergs, it still seems so wrong that Team New Zealand can win any award, let alone the supreme honour.

It’s a syndicate, not a sports team.

hayden.meikle@oamarumail.co.nz