I have a little, energetic future All Black spinning circles around me 24 hours a day. What to do? Sign him up for sports! How? I have no idea. This seemingly simple act would prove a tough nut for me to crack here in New Zealand.
Just before leaving the States, Mason played on his first ever sports league. He was three and his little buddy’s mom told me she had signed her son up for T-Ball and that Mason should join the team. She told me the name of the league, I found it through a quick web search, and had him signed up in minutes.
We showed up for his first ever T-Ball game to clearly marked fields, an information table, coaches greeting us, and reversible jerseys for each kid to keep. There were official batting helmets (resulting in bobble-head preschoolers) and parents chatting on the sidelines from the comfort of their folding chairs. Mason’s team had two coaches, both volunteer dads who entertained us with their futile attempts to keep the attention of a three-year-old mob for a whole hour every Saturday. It was far worse than herding cats, yet they soldiered on.
Looking forward to a similar spectacle when we arrived in New Zealand, I began searching for sports leagues in our little town of Blenheim. My husband, Tony, grew up in Blenheim and knew that kids played rugby at Lansdowne Park on Saturdays, so we showed up one misty morning and asked around about getting Mason on a team. After several attempts the general consensus was that the season had already started, he was too young anyway, and to try again next winter. I thought this was all very casual, but I was a newcomer at the time and it seemed way too cold for a three-year-old to be playing rugby in winter anyway.
Summer rolled around and I had heard through the grapevine (quite literally here in wine country) that there was a T-Ball league for young ones. I searched high and low for this T-Ball league on the internet. Each website gave me someone’s phone number or some other person’s email address. After spamming everyone and getting replies suggesting I “text Craig at…” or “call Jim on …” I somehow, finally, managed to learn there was a muster day where we could show up at the fields and sign our kid up. Which we did. Yes, we were finally signed up for a sport!
T-Ball season went smoothly since the games were always on the same diamond at the same time. Rainy weekends were a bit befuddling as I never knew if the game was on or not. Someone told me to listen to the local radio station for field closures. What?! With a game starting at 9am one drizzly Saturday, I flicked through three stations for 20 minutes before giving up in frustration, suiting up, and driving to the game to find out it was cancelled. Eventually we got the hang of it and had a wonderfully sunny and productive season. Mason was honing his T-Ball skills and I was learning to navigate small town sports.
Winter arrived again (drat! why does it do that?) and so it was time to find a rugby team. No problem, I thought. I’ll just use all the same channels I used for T-Ball. Nope. Rugby was the Bigfoot of youth sports in Blenheim: a blur here, a rumor there, tiptoeing really close to the monster but never actually capturing it. I thought, “How on Earth did this place produce the greatest rugby team of all time?” I wondered if the All Blacks were started by a tough band of vagabond kids that didn’t have homes or school. They just lived at the rugby grounds and therefore made the team when the first game spontaneously broke out.
To crack the code, I had to become one of those vagabond kids. I slunk around the rugby grounds a few times a week searching for some sign that a league would be starting. One day it happened. There was an actual sign! It announced the upcoming muster day. I was elated. My perseverance had paid off. By and by, I learned how youth sports work in Blenheim. There is sometimes a bit of web page, some times a bit of a Facebook page, sometimes a text group, sometimes parents just know each other and spread the word. For certain, the one and only source for game times on Saturday is the local newspaper on Tuesday.
Ticking rugby off the list, Mason joined an industrious little boxing club which I heard out about via word-of-mouth and eventually located only by driving up and down the streets of the neighborhood it was reportedly in. When I went inside to inquire they said, “Oh sure, just come any day you want and pay $10 that day.” Wow, so easy. So Kiwi. So practical. No pre-season sign up, no direct deposit, and no forms for the lawyers. We just started showing up like they suggested and Mason became a tiny boxer.
A serious earthquake closed the boxing gym temporarily, so the coach moved the club to his home where he had quite professionally set up a new gym in his garage and backyard. Everyone gathered round and pitched in. Older boxers and parents held the pads while the kids jabbed away. Often I was the time clock authority yelling, “Rotate!” every thirty seconds. No-brainer putting the loud American on that duty. On days when my services weren’t required I would go for a walk or watch the farmers milking their cows on the neighboring property. This is one of the unnameable things I have come to love so much about Blenheim. It was weeks before it even occurred to me that it might be a rare thing to simultaneously watch boxing practice and cow milking. It simply added more charm to this determined little boxing club in this endearing town.
My standard-issue American optimism and can-do attitude kicked in somewhere along the way and not only did I learn the small town sports system, but I mastered it and I taught it. After a few sports seasons under my belt, other wayward parents started coming to me to get info about what sports are available, how to join, what season is up next, and where is it played. How very far I’ve come.
Now I flick texts and share Facebook pages and know exactly which periodicals, supermarket notice boards, and school bulletins to scour to find each and every sport available to kids in Blenheim. I even found Parkour recently, no small feat considering we are thousands of miles away from its modern genesis in the outskirts of Paris. But we still have some work to do down here in Blenheim to fully automate youth sports leagues to the level of efficiency I stumbled upon in that T-Ball league in the States. Its website even had a section where I could sign up for the week I wanted to bring post-game snacks. Snack sign up. Now that’s something I can learn, master, and teach.
Kiwi Glossary: Puffed. Out of breath. Rugby Coach: Are you kids puffed yet? Nope? Okay run down to the goal posts and back. Again. One more time. Another for good measure.