Junior touch is experiencing a major growth spurt in North Otago.
The Tuesday night competition usually hosts between 90 and 95 teams each season, but this year, 106 teams are entered.
North Otago is also stamping its dominance in Otago touch, with 29 players included in representative squads this year.
North Otago Junior Touch president Mark Robertson said it was an exciting time for the sport, helping more children become active.
‘‘I want to see kids get out and play sport and everything, so I’m rapt about that,’’ Robertson said.
Home-schooled children from the Waitaki Valley were also getting involved, and more teams from Hampden School had been picked up.
‘‘Even the little country towns are getting into it.’’
There were plenty of reasons touch was gaining in popularity — it was a simple game, games finished within 30 minutes, it was cheap and there was no special gear required.
In the past, there had been ‘‘good teachers’’ who had also pushed touch as an option throughout at the region.
‘‘We’ve had ex-Otago players and ex-Otago coaches that were teaching here years ago, so they’ve helped pump it up so that’s really good.’’
Alert Level 2 rules forced Robertson to split the age groups to play on alternative weeks, as restrictions did not allow for more than 100 people gathering at outdoor events that were not held in an event facility.
While it had been stressful ‘‘finding room for them all’’, parents and teachers had been full of praise for the committee keeping it going.
‘‘There’s no point in them sitting at home.’’
Having plenty of North Otago representation in Otago sides was also pleasing, Robertson said. Usually, North Otago had about 22 players in Otago teams, and getting extras involved from under-12 to under-18 teams was ‘‘pretty cool’’.
Robertson put the increase down to the standard of coaching and parent involvement in North Otago.
‘‘Everyone’s getting involved more. Some of the rep kids are [also] playing adult touch on a Tuesday night, and they’re learning more and taking it back to the schools.’’
Representative players shared their knowledge with local players, helping elevate the level of play in Oamaru, he said.
They also gave back to North Otago by helping to referee local games, as did many other players.
‘‘We’re always looking for new ones. We’ve got referees heading away to national competitions this year and we’ve got new referees that are coming through, getting trained up this year and hopefully getting their level 1 certificate badges.’’
There were several children now who opted to referee touch, rather than playing.