The 2023 Waikato Sport & Active Recreation Awards, powered by Craigs Investment Partners, celebrates and acknowledges community initiatives, people and programmes that aim to grow participation and deliver opportunities and spaces for communities to be active. 

Over 110 nominations from around the region were received for the 2023 Waikato Sport & Active Recreation Awards, with finalists and their supporters attending the event alongside sponsors and key Waikato supporters to hear the winners announced from each of the eight categories.

Chief Executive of Sport Waikato, Matthew Cooper said “It’s fantastic to see all of these amazing organisations and people here, and for Sport Waikato to be able to put the spotlight on them – to have them on stage receiving an award is truly heartwarming. They’ll tell you they don’t do what they do to receive an award, but the acknowledgement and recognition goes such a long way towards feeling valued.”

Alongside the winners of eight categories including new category aimed at those young people who lead intiatives (By Youth For Youth), MC Honey Hireme-Smiler was awarded the prestigious Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award for leadership and service to sport in the Waikato region. 

The winners were: 

Community Connection Award: Community Sports Delivery (Te Awamutu Rugby Sports & Recreation Club, Waipa)

Sport & Active Recreation Partnership Award: Waikato Multi-Sport Holiday Programme (Hamilton City Netball Centre, Northern Districts Cricket, Waikato Touch, Hamilton)

Outstanding By Youth For Youth Initiative: Hajamie Judo Club – Jamie Hopson (Waipa)

Outstanding Active Space Initiative Award: Tīrau Domain Project (South Waikato District Council, South Waikato)

Community Coach Award: Gabi Peach (Weightlifting New Zealand/Waikato Weightlifting Club/Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, Hamilton)

Community Unsung Hero Award: Vicki Skill (Whiritoa Lifeguard Service, Hauraki)

Commitment to Youth Engagement Award: Te Awamutu Boxing Academy (Waipa)

Commitment to Accessibility & Inclusion Award: ConnectEd Dance Co. Children’s Dance Classes (Hamilton)

Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award: Honey Hireme-Smiler

Nominations were judged this year by Waikato radio broadcaster, Graeme 'Mintie' Mead and Waikato River trails General Manager, Gyln Wooller, alongside Sport Waikato's Sport Development Manager, Amigene Metcalfe, and Targeted Participation Manager, Roxanna Holdsworth. The panel was impressed with the high calibre of nominations and finalists this year. 

“The incredible passion and commitment of all of our nominees, finalists and winners is evident in the way they talk about their initiatives and people. And to hear them talk about addressing the needs of the participant such as cost, time and travel barriers makes me immensely proud.”
“What an amazing night it was; not only did we recognise 25 finalists and 8 winners, but we also got to award the Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award to Honey Hireme-Smiler – a true waahine toa for our region,” said Matthew.

The full list of finalists and winners follows at the end.

2023 Waikato Sport & Active Recreation Winners Blurbs

Community Connection Award: Community Sports Delivery (Waipa)

Te Awamutu Rugby Sports & Recreation Club's Community Sports Delivery programme addressed the need for increased youth participation in sports and recreation by providing free, tailored sessions at 12 schools in Waipa. Over the past year, they facilitated after-school modules, holiday programmes, and events like junior touch and netball, resulting in heightened engagement and positive feedback. By listening to feedback and adapting sessions, they fostered enjoyment, confidence, and skill development among participants. This initiative has strengthened community connections and will continue to innovate to ensure accessibility and fun for all involved.

Sport & Active Recreation Partnership Award: Waikato Multi-Sport Holiday Programme (Hamilton)

The Multi-Sport holiday programme, led by Hamilton City Netball, Northern Districts Cricket, and Waikato Touch, aimed to provide an affordable and inclusive sports experience for children, addressing barriers like cost and limited options. Over the past year, the programme successfully delivered sessions during April and September school holidays, with additional sports added based on feedback. Key organisations collaborated to ensure the success of the programme, emphasising collective outcomes over competition between sports. Positive outcomes included increased participation, with 88 participants in April and 86 in September, showcasing the programme's impact in introducing children to new sports. This collaborative effort exemplifies the shift towards promoting cross-code participation and fostering communication between sporting codes in the region.

Outstanding Active Space Initiative Award: Tīrau Domain Project (South Waikato)

The Tīrau Community engaged Boffa Miskell in 2017 to develop a landscape plan for the Reserve, responding to limited leisure space and barriers to physical activity. In the past year, significant progress was made to the domain, including the construction of a suspension bridge, walkways, carpark, amenities, and a pump track, enhancing inclusivity and spontaneous play. Community feedback has been highly positive, with visitor numbers nearly doubling from June 2022 to June 2023, indicating growing participation and enjoyment of the space. 

Commitment to Accessibility & Inclusion Award: ConnectEd Dance Co. Children’s Dance Classes (Hamilton)

ConnectEd Dance Co. offers inclusive dance programmes in Hamilton South for children aged 2-12, addressing barriers like cost and skill levels. The programme welcomes children of all backgrounds and abilities, teaching movement through play-to-learn methods, leading to positive experiences and high retention rates over the past 12 months. Parents note the programme has a welcoming environment, fostering skill development and camaraderie among participants.

Commitment to Youth Engagement Award: Te Awamutu Boxing Academy (Waipa)

The Te Awamutu Boxing programme caters to youth aged 9 to 18 from diverse backgrounds, aiming to foster physical, emotional, and social well-being through boxing in a values-based environment. Efforts to remove barriers like cost and transportation have resulted in a waitlist for the programme, highlighting its necessity in the community. Over the past year, the programme has expanded significantly, with an increase in the number of classes and a notable rise in female participation. Development weekends and camps have provided meaningful experiences, fostering connections and personal growth. Students and parents praise its impact on resilience, self-respect, and community support, there's a  strong sense of camaraderie and personal development among participants.

Community Coach Award: Gabi Peach (Weightlifting New Zealand/Waikato Weightlifting Club/Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, Hamilton)

Gabi Peach, a dedicated weightlifting coach, has significantly increased youth participation in the sport over the past year through her inclusive and adaptable approach. She prioritizes individual needs, fostering a positive team culture focused on personal progress, rather than winning. Gabi creates a welcoming environment where athletes feel safe to voice their opinions and challenges. This approach has led to remarkable growth in participation numbers, with many athletes, previously unaware of weightlifting, now actively involved and setting ambitious goals. Gabi's coaching instills confidence and belief in her athletes, evidenced by their willingness to take on challenges and continue their involvement in the sport. 

Community Unsung Hero Award: Vicki Skill (Whiritoa Lifeguard Service, Hauraki)

Vicki, the unsung hero of the Whiritoa Lifeguard Service (WLGS), played an important role in reviving the committee from collapse during the Covid pandemic. Vicki rallied new recruits, and reshaped the committee's culture, ensuring its success. Her selfless dedication, evident in her voluntary financial management and lifeguard training, has been instrumental in the WLGS's resurgence. Under her guidance, club membership and participation in lifeguard activities have surged, while projects like the Club Rebuild Committee signify Vicki's role in fostering organizational growth and development. Feedback from members underscores her professionalism and positive influence, affirming Vicki's invaluable contribution to the community's safety and enjoyment of Whiritoa Beach.

Outstanding By Youth For Youth Initiative: Hajamie Judo Club – Jamie Hopson (Waipa)

Leading the project independently at the age of 23, Jamie overcame various challenges, including finding a venue, securing funding for equipment, and navigating registration hurdles with Judo NZ. Her dedication resulted in a thriving club offering sessions four days a week, catering to youth aged 5 to 15. With 20 members, the club has profoundly impacted participants' lives, promoting discipline, respect, and physical fitness. The club's official recognition by Judo NZ and Waikato Bays Judo Association, along with increased membership and participation in competitions, reflects its remarkable success. Jamie's exceptional leadership and unwavering commitment have transformed the Judo landscape in Cambridge, providing a supportive and empowering environment for young athletes to thrive.

Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award: Honey Hireme-Smiler

Honey Hireme-Smiler is someone who has been and still remains a staunch advocate, supporter, enabler and trail-blazer of sport in the Waikato and beyond. She has and continues to very successfully operate in both high performance and community sport environments, leaving a lasting impact in the spaces she occupies and on the people she engages with. Her overall intent is always to leave the sporting spaces she inhabits in a better place than when she found them. 

  • Represented New Zealand in three different oval ball codes – importantly, during a time where women’s sport was barely a blip on the radar of the nation or the globe
  • Played in four Rugby League World Cups for the Kiwi Ferns, rising from just 5 years of age to senior women’s grades at regional level and eventually national honours
  • Captained the Rugby league 9s world cup team in 2019, where the Kiwiferns won
  • Part of the inaugural NRL Women’s premiership, playing for the St George Illawarra Dragons
  • Three-time Kiwi Fern Player of the Year was awarded the inaugural Veronica White Medal for her outstanding contribution to the community through rugby league and was later appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the code
  • Black Ferns, making her debut at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup while also becoming one of New Zealand’s first contracted women’s seven’s players
  • 2013 she played for the New Zealand rugby sevens team in their World Cup in Moscow, started every game, scored four tries (including crucial ones in the semi and final), and helped our women to the title
  • From Moscow, she flew straight over to Leeds for the rugby league World Cup. There she captained the Kiwi Ferns to the final, scored tries against each of her opponents, and was named player of the tournament.
  • 2014, she made her debut for the Black Ferns and while the team didn't shine at their World Cup in France, she did. She scored five tries and was named in the World XV. 
  • She was an early and important advocate and instigator of the Waikato women’s rugby club competition, playing and coaching to build up a network of participants and teams who could foster the beginnings of a regional women’s rugby scene 
  • Head Coach role with Melville Womens Premier Rugby Team, had a 3-peat in winning 3 consecutive premierships. 
  • She has spent much of her working life supporting the physical activity participation of disabled people, working for both Life Unlimited and the Halberg Foundation. A strong advocate for equal opportunities, she has spent years educating others on how to be more inclusive in the delivery of sport and physical activity to ensure access and enjoyment among groups of people in our region who tend to miss out
  • TV commentary for SKY and governance where she has continued to blaze a trail for females.
  • Serving on the Boards of both the Waikato Rugby Union and New Zealand Rugby League 
  • She is a regular and welcome addition to the commentary teams for both rugby union and rugby league for Sky Sport, calling All Blacks, Black Ferns, Super Rugby and NPC and FPC as well as the NRL and international test matches for rugby league. 

The finalists were:

Community Connection: Those people or organisations that develop programmes that create connection and a great experience for its members or participants. 

  • Community Sports Delivery
  • Le Aute Dance Academy Tuakau
  • Te Huarahi Hou – New Pathways Programme

Sport & Active Recreation Partnership: Two or more organisations working together to achieve a physical activity outcome goal.

  • Active Agers Program – a partnership between The Velodrome Cambridge and Mel Engelbrecht from the YMCA
  • Waikato Multi-Sport Holiday Programme
  • Zespri Young and Healthy Virtual Adventure

Outstanding By Youth For Youth Initiative: Initiatives or programmes predominantly run by youth for the benefit of young people. These can be initiatives co-designed alongside adults but that are lead by young people 24 years and under.

  • Gabriella Hughes
  • Hajamie Judo Club – Jamie Hopson
  • Youth Coaches engaging and growing U12’s Waterpolo

Outstanding Active Space Initiative: Any programme or initiative that's held in a space such as community halls, parks, gullies, rivers - wherever a space has been used to help people be active.

  • Korikori Park (within Rototuna Village Hub precinct)
  • Taupo Historical Cycle Tours
  • Tirau Domain Project

Community Coach: A community coach who creates positive team culture, provides a great experience and encourages fair play and commitment to Balance is Better/Good Sports principles.

  • Gabi Peach
  • Margaret (Margee) Rota
  • Miha Brown

Community Unsung Hero: Those unpaid, unsung heroes/volunteers that have made a real difference in the last 12 months to an initiative or organisation.

  • Vicki Skill
  • Wesley Hendricks
  • Gaylene Dorssers

Commitment to Youth Engagement: Those people or programmes who support young people (0-24), and help to grow the numbers of young people being more active. 

  • First Push Skateboarding
  • Te Awamutu Boxing Academy
  • Waikato Wahine Movement

Commitment to Accessibility & Inclusion: Programmes or initiatives that are making physical activity opportunities accessible, welcoming and inclusive to meet the needs of marginalised groups, women/girls, ethnic minority groups, or cultural/religious groups to enable those people to be more active

  • ConnectEd Dance Co. Children’s Dance Classes
  • Super Beans
  • Wai-Tai, Wai-Rua

 View all nominees and finalists here:

2023 Waikato Sport & Active Recreation Awards - Winners

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