Family-oriented club grass-roots winner

Members of the South Pacific sports club from its various codes (from left) Ana Moses, Manassa...
Members of the South Pacific sports club from its various codes (from left) Ana Moses, Manassa Kutia, Maine Mareko-Johnson, David Reedy, Gianna Leoni, Natalie Visger, Bailey Wharerimu and Shaun Tahau, at the North Ground after winning New Zealand Rugby League’s grass-roots club of the year this week. Photo: Gregor Richardson
In many ways the South Pacific sports club is a trailblazer in the south — and now it has received national recognition.

It was named grass-roots club of the year at the New Zealand Rugby League awards on Wednesday night.

Indeed, its roots are in league, where it plays in the Dunedin competition as the South Pacific Raiders.

The team — at present coached by David Reedy — has had plenty of success through the years and was a beaten finalist this season.

But it has since grown to include basketball, netball and softball.It has a strong off-field family culture and this year has put an emphasis on mental wellness.

Creating social opportunities and helping to ensure its members’ families with a little less money got fed were key focuses.

Getting acknowledgement was not the reason for doing that, although club president Gianna Leoni — who at just 30 years old has headed the club for a decade — said it was nice.

"It was really weird, actually, when we found out," she said.

"A lot of the work that we do, it kind of makes it all worth it when we get that recognition.

"Not that we do it for the recognition, but it kind of encourages us to keep doing it."

The club was founded in 1994, when Leoni’s father Grant and some of his friends decided to start a rugby league team.

A women’s basketball team — the Magic — followed in the mid-2000s when a group of school leavers decided to play together.

That included Leoni and they decided to link with the South Pacific club as the structure was already established.

Recently, netball — Titans — and softball — Ravens — teams have followed in a similar manner.

Teams in more codes had indicated interest in joining. Provided they had personnel to help run things, the club was happy to keep growing.

Creating opportunity was key to it all.

"We wanted to provide a different opportunity — especially for Maori and Pacific Island players," Leoni said.

"In netball and probably in basketball, a lot of them leave high school and don’t go and play for clubs.

"That was part of the reason we’ve continued making more teams."

It could be the first of many.

As many traditional clubs struggle, there has been talk of sports hubs and relationships between those from different sports.

South Pacific has embraced both — running plenty by itself and establishing a relationship with the Alhambra-Union Rugby Club to use as its base.

Leoni felt more multisport clubs were likely.

The big challenge was finding people to drive things in the right direction.

However, she felt a key to success was ensuring there was more to the club than just playing the game.It was more of that she felt would help the club continue to grow.

"We always talk about the Pac fam and talk about being a whanau-oriented club.

"It’s more than just the sport, so, moving forward, we want to be doing more of those things.

"Especially in this economic climate, people struggle sometimes and this can be a good base.

"More teams is always cool, but that means needing more people, which can be hard."

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