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Longstanding investment in hockey nets dividends for tiny kura

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Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata has only 30 eligible players, but has qualified for the top-tier secondary school tournament next year. File pic
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A Rotorua kura kaupapa is hoping to pull off a great upset on the national hockey scene, becoming the little kura that could.

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata has only 180 students, and only 30 eligible players, but has qualified for the top-tier secondary school tournament, the Rankin Cup next year.

Past winners are schools of thousands or wealthy private colleges – it is not a list where you would usually see kura kaupapa, but Ruamata is determined to change that.

Ruamata made it one step closer last month, winning a qualifying tournament in Christchurch.

Team captain Nopera Hohepa said his kura was succeeding against the odds.

“We want to show that no matter what, no matter how small, no matter how weak, we can push through and strive to be the best no matter what,” Hohepa said.

“So this is us the Ruamata boys showing the whole country and all Māori around the world, around the motu that you can do it, no matter what.”

It was a whānau legacy for him.

“Hockey has been my life since I was born, basically raised up with a hockey stick in my hand, and my passion has grown for the sport because my whole family, my school and everything I’ve been enveloped with, hockey has just been amazing.”

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata made headlines two weeks ago, when they attracted crowd complaints for using te reo Māori on the turf in Christchurch.

In the past they have been censured by referees for their use of the official language.

A local kura caught wind and showed up en masse, supporting with waiata, haka and whakatauākī.

Coach Tenga Rangitauira said things were improving, but they were able to look past it.

“All we tell the boys is that there are individuals out there who may not like the way we do things or the way we speak Māori but we have to carry on, and they’re just individuals. We try not to make it about a school or a town. It’s more individuals who have that issue,” Rangitauira said.

It had galvanised them and they were feeling resilient as they prepared for next year’s tournament, he said.

The sport has been a huge part of the kura since it opened in 1987 and its small roll has been no impediment.

“Ruamata don’t see it as a disadvantage, we’ve been playing hockey for a long time. We have great coaches and so we develop our kids so that when we do get to a regional or national stage competition, our kids are ready and can compete with the bigger schools,” Rangitauira said.

Ruamata principal Cathy Dewes said the kura was so invested in hockey, it was part of the students’ classes every day.

They were once under the wing of women’s hockey great Margaret Hiha.

“We jig the timetable so that hockey is a subject, it’s timetabled into the kids’ programme. It’s an essential part of their learning curriculum and so from age 5, it’s timetabled into their learning,” Dewes said.

The relationships formed were very important for whanaungatanga, she said.

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