Two of Waitaki’s unsung sporting heroes have been given the recognition they deserve.
Long-serving sports journalist Terry O’Neill and New Zealand’s first winter Olympian, Herbie Familton, were inducted into the Waitaki Sports Hall of Fame at the Waitaki Sports Awards on Monday.
O’Neill was the voice of North Otago sport for 50 years, covering rugby for the Oamaru Mail from 1971 and later becoming the North Otago sports correspondent for the Otago Daily Times. He retired from his duties last year.
He started in radio in 1977 with 4ZB, then Radio Waitaki, Port FM and Real 104 Radio.
Alongside his other duties, O’Neill broadcast nearly 400 rugby games and travelled throughout the country with the North Otago team.
In the mid-1990s, O’Neill also supplied commentaries at Carisbrook following the introduction of Super Rugby.
In 2013, he was honoured with the national Garry Frew Memorial Award, recognising outstanding contribution to provincial sports journalism. He received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to sports journalism in the 2020 New Year Honours.
Aside from journalism, O’Neill, who taught at St Kevin’s College for 42 years, played 28 games for the North Otago rugby side and was made a life member of the union in 2012.
Hall of Fame MC Hayden Meikle said he genuinely believed nobody had done as much for North Otago sport as O’Neill.
O’Neill was unable to attend the event, and fellow commentator and long-time friend Paddy Ford accepted the accolade on his behalf.
Ford said O’Neill kept North Otago on the map and helped plenty of athletes be recognised
— including All Black Phil Gard.
‘‘He had the heart for North Otago and it was the people that counted,’’ Ford said.
‘‘What I liked about him . . .if you have a bad game at sport, he never mentioned you. He always gave you the opportunity to come back and play again — he was a privilege to work with.’’
Familton was a pioneer of New Zealand skiing, and was a reserve in the New Zealand team at the 1952 Olympic Games in Oslo.
When team captain Sir Roy McKenzie hurt himself, Familton, who also had a broken thumb, took his place. He finished 77th in the giant slalom. Familton’s son, Herb, spoke at the function saying his father always told him he beat all the Australians and the Lebanese.
‘‘I’ve subsequently found out in the official results that there was one Australian that beat him,’’ Herb laughed.
‘‘Seventy years afterwards, it’s so appropriate that we’ve got two gold medallists and now we’re ahead of the Australians in the gold medal tally.’’
Herbie, who died in 2002, was a New Zealand representative from 1951 to 1953 and in 1956. He led the New Zealand team with the Waitaki Boys’ High School haka at the 1952 Olympics. His old wooden skis were given to the Waitaki Museum and Archive.
Herbie was also a founding member of the North Otago Ski Club, played a major role in developing Awakino Skifield, and was still on his skis in his 70s.
‘‘I think he contributed a lot to North Otago in terms of historic preservation, open space and through the community.’’
It was a great honour for his father to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Herb said.