Athletics: Championship dream celebrates 40 years this weekend

Don Chadderton's dream came true in 1973 when the first New Zealand secondary schools championships were held in Christchurch.

He was a member of the organising committee that ran the event at the QE2 athletics stadium later used for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

Chadderton was a member of the executive committee that ran the event for 19 years and has included four chapters on the championships in his book Sixty Plus Wonderful Years in Sport.

He will be in Dunedin this weekend for the 40th annual championships at the Caledonian Ground.

''It will be good to chew the fat with many from around the country who were involved at the first meeting in 1973,'' Chadderton said.

''While the organising committee was preparing for that inaugural championships, we were watching QE2 rise from some sandhills on the edge of an abandoned racecourse on the edge of a swamp.

''Unfortunately, QE2 is reverting back into old sandhills on the edge of a swamp.''

The organising committee began planning for the event in 1972 and called for entries during the second term of 1973.

The championships enabled pupils from small country schools to compete on equal terms against athletes from the big city schools. It could not be done in team sports like rugby, cricket or netball.

''The sprinting finals were exciting and included athletes from places of which I was scarcely aware,'' Chadderton writes in his book.

''Little Maira Matkovich from Kaitaia won both junior sprints.

''The final of the senior girls 800m was a show-stopper, as two picturesque blondes, Diane Zorn amd Alison Deed, fought out a close race.

''Many officials virtually downed tools to watch the close battle between the two girls, who were later better known as Diane Rodger and Alison Roe.''

The event was revolutionary because it was the first time boys and girls from secondary schools had competed together in an interschool athletics event.

''Our first championships proved that it was possible to organise a meeting that catered for both boys and girls,'' Chadderton said.

''Around the country, boys and girls had competed in separate interschool championships.

''Little did we know that we had established a championship that was to have such a lasting impact upon athletics in New Zealand. Perhaps even now few appreciate how our little group changed the sport for young New Zealanders.''

The secondary schools championships introduced a wider range of events for girls before Athletics New Zealand: track walk 1979 (Athletics New Zealand 1985), triple jump 1986 (1991), hammer throw 1988 (1992), pole vault 1988 (1997), steeplechase 1991 (2001).