The Bay is graced with many high performers in sport – individuals like Israel Dagg, Brooke MacDonald (mountainbiker), Bobbi Gichard (swimmer) and teams such as the Magpies, Hawks and Hawke’s Bay United.

But as a community we tend to look at those that win or are successful as our only high performers.

They get put on a pedestal as high achievers – which they do deserve due to their hard work and performances, but there are many other unnoticed high performers within sport.

I’m not talking about sport administration volunteers (although they are also deserving of the term); I’m talking about the mentors and members of sport academies that are popping up in the region.

Craig McDougall, Flaxmere Boxing Academy

I believe academies such as the Sport Hawke’s Bay/EIT High Performance Academy, Hastings Intermediate Sports Academy, Havelock North High School’s Sports Academy, IMS Paora Winitana & Paul Henare Basketball Academy and lastly the Flaxmere Boxing Academy are making a huge impact in our communities.

Why? Because the mentors that lead these academies are nurturing well-rounded teenagers, who abide by a set of rules that equally apply to competing and becoming solid community leaders.

Now to some that may seem impossible – most teenagers apparently are only thinking of themselves … and some not thinking with their brains.

I beg to differ. An entire underbelly within sport is using sport today as a way of developing the next generation of community leaders.

I believe these academies — where success is measured both ‘on the field and off’ – are making a true difference to social behaviour within the community.

My best decision

For example, I attended the end of year celebration of the basketball academy in my capacity as co-chair of the Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust.

It was held on a Saturday, and with a large family and a long list of weekend chores – including driving our own children to sport – I looked for an excuse not to go.

However, my conscience got the better of me. I knew that these kids had put in the hard yards getting up at 5am most school day mornings, so the least I could do was go along and show support.

It turned out to be the best decision I made over the weekend.

Head coach/mentor Paora Winitana has set high standards for those who are successful at gaining entry into the academy. They are expected to improve their on-court skills, but also to live by the academy’s virtues of ‘excellence, integrity and passion’. The academy’s aim is ‘preparing future leaders, on and off the court’.

I consider myself an OK public speaker. I need to be well-prepared and always use a script, but at the Hastings Sports Centre, you could have heard a pin drop as five academy members gave unprepared insights into what they had achieved as an academy member.

None of them told a story about how many hoops they could shoot in a row or how fast they could get down the court. Instead they spoke about how the academy had made them better people.

As an academy member they are required to do good deeds in the community and we heard how two members observed a potentially dangerous assault by a man on a group of teenagers in Napier.

Rather than turn a blind eye or run for cover, the two teenage boys intervened and a violent situation was prevented. The incident was reported to the police and an arrest was made.

To me this was a courageous example; but to many in the academy it was all part of being in the fold.

No-hopers?

The following day I was in Hastings and observed the darker side of being a teenager.

A young adult (approximately 18-20 years old) was pushing a young child with a broken leg in a wheelchair. He was outside the local ‘legal high’ dealer. I watched and wondered what was going on.

Then out of the corner of my eye I spotted his female partner (and perhaps the child’s mother) walking across the road and harassing a passerby for money, which was then duly spent with the dealer.

I have a tendency to judge people too quickly and in this instance I was no different. I looked and judged them as troubled youths (I didn’t think of these more generous words) and then quickly cast them aside as no-hopers.

I then wondered if they had been given the same opportunities as the academy guys, and how they had gotten into this situation.

What was their family background? Did they ever have a mentor or a role model? What was the tipping point to end up in this situation? How could it have been different for them?

There’s a phrase often used to promote the benefits of a new sport facility in the region: ‘A youth in sport, is a youth out of court’.

It’s generally true. But sometimes I think there’s too much emphasis on the development of sport facilities and not enough on ‘youth development through sport’.

Don’t get me wrong. We need a strong portfolio of regional facilities, but we then need to make sure that these facilities are well-utilised.

There should be as much emphasis on sport development – both in programmes that provide opportunities for all our youth and also the more aspirational academies.

The current crop of academies are mostly privately funded and are supported by a loyal and local band of businesses and charitable trusts.

The Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust provides over $40,000 a year to development of youths in sport, some of which goes to the academies.

Our only kick-back is that we see the nurturing and personal development of teenagers who then have the potential to go on to greater things.

I hope that our region’s leaders – who are challenged by teenagers brawling in the town and the easy access to buying ‘legal highs’ – look outside of the ring and consider the benefits of academies and other sport-focused programmes as part of their community plans.

It’s people like Paora Winitana and Craig McDougall from the boxing academy (HB Today’s Person of the Year) and their funding partners that need our support.

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