During the Rugby League World Cup, hosted by England, the Kiwi squad were based in Doncaster. Being a huge rugby fan, I jumped at the chance to greet the Kiwis. The opportunity was presented by the community programme at The Dons RLFC lead by Martin Rowlands and Carl Hall, and what better way to welcome the Kiwis than with the ‘Ka Mate’ haka?
As a school, we were holding a ‘sponsored day’ with a global theme which involved the children studying dances, traditions and customs from around the world. Talk about a small world: the year Six’s project was coming to Doncaster. The dances and traditions of the Maori became a real focus for the whole school. This wasn’t just finding out about another culture anymore; this was learning about another culture first-hand. Especially when we found out that the current world champions would be coming into our classrooms. I digress - the welcome…
Following several weeks of dedicated training, the children filed into the Earl of Doncaster Hotel ballroom, where the Kiwis were staying and positioned themselves in front of the squad and their entourage, including Doncaster’s mayor, members of the education authority and the media. The children, led by Charlie, performed an outstanding haka. Genuinely, it was the best one they had done and at the right time. What happened next was totally unexpected… the Kiwi squad, after a call to arms from their leader, stood up, scattering chairs from under them in response. The children stood their ground confidently as the Haka was reciprocated in thunderous fashion. What an awesome sight! Following the exchange of hakas, the children were able to spend some time talking to the squad. Knowing the calibre of children that we have at NJS, I was confident that they would present themselves well when speaking publicly. I wasn’t disappointed, and that feeling was enhanced when I arrived at school the next day to hear our children speaking confidently and eloquently during a local radio broadcast.
To this point, the children had revered the Kiwis as professional athletes and sporting idols. However, this wasn’t the end of their experience, as a week later they were going to gain a whole new insight into these sporting heroes when they visited our school. Each of our eight classes were to have one or two players visit, to whom they could ask questions. The atmosphere around school was amazing, and the children and staff alike were excited (particularly the female members of staff (no idea why!). On arrival at NJS, the squad were greeted by the whole school at the gates. What a reception! The team were shown around the school and made their way to classrooms. As the children had known about the visit for a number of days, they’d had time to prepare their questions: training regime, diet, houses, family… the list of topics covered by their questions goes on. The children were beginning to see these men as success stories. Stories that began with not too dissimilar starts to their own. Each answer they received provided them with a more ‘real’ picture of what the players and support staff were really like. Interestingly, as a school, we’ve identified an increase in the number of children taking up extra-curricular activities (not just the sporting kind) since finding out more about these sporting superstars.
Following the Q&A session with the children, it was Haka time again. A number of children were not able to attend the welcoming Haka at the Earl of Doncaster Hotel and with the acoustics in our dome ceilinged hall, it sounded phenomenal. The Kiwis responded in kind once again. Watching both the children and the players perform the haka will never get old! While in the hall, the team were invited to share ‘cream tea and scones’ with the staff, governors and the mayor. Seeing the Kiwi players chipping in and serving scones was a sight to behold. After being part of our whole school assembly where they handed out celebration certificates and congratulated the children, the team were off. Next to be seen taking the field against the heroes of many other nations in the world cup.
The effect on the children and the staff of our school was irreversible. The children’s perceptions of the Kiwi team and indeed all elite sportsmen and women had changed. They could see that through hard work, resilience and dedication, their goals and aspirations to pursue a career in something that they loved to do (science, maths, art, literacy, history etc) seemed so much more achievable. Children that didn’t necessarily believe in themselves before found confidence, drive and determination to follow their ambitions. For the children of Norton Junior School, meeting the New Zealand Rugby world cup squad was no doubt an opportunity of a lifetime. However, it wasn’t the gravity of the experience they were left to contemplate, rather, the lifetime of opportunity before them.
Have you ever greeted sporting superstars into your school? Share your stories below.