Marlborough Netball’s 2020 player of the year will not be turning out for champion club Tokomaru this season.
Sixteen-year-old Haze Tepuia, a stand-out in the Marlborough premier competition over the past two seasons, has been denied dispensation to continue playing in the top grade.
Marlborough Netball Association rules allow boys to play at any level until they are 15, then they must apply for dispensation to continue.
Beth Tester, Marlborough Netball chair, explained the process.
“Tokomaru sought a dispensation for Haze last year. It went to the dispensation committee. The competition committee’s recommendation to the board was no dispensation due to physicality and safety of other players.
“In early January [Marlborough Netball] got a call asking that the decision be reviewed. As a board we agreed we would review that in a forum with our members early in the new year.
“That occurred in February. There was mixed feedback, pros and cons, so it was agreed to put it to a vote among the [netball] community … so a survey was sent out and people voted. A majority of the members came back and said no dispensation.
“But [they] acknowledged that we needed to look at how male players could be included into the more senior levels, or into competition, this coming year.”
Beth said Marlborough Netball were talking with Nelson Netball, who do not allow male players in their premier grade, about the possibility of creating a top of the south mixed competition.
“We are working with [Nelson netball boss] Leigh Gibbs and her board … to get a competition starting a bit later in the season.
“We also have to establish that there is a desire and enough people to do that.
“We fully support Haze, he’s a talented player, but we are a small centre and we don’t have enough males for a men-only competition,” Beth added.
Haze, a Year 13 pupil at Marlborough Boys’ College, is a qualified umpire and has already achieved higher honours in his sport. He is a member of the Nelson men's team, the Christchurch mixed under-23s and was named in the New Zealand men's under-20 side.
Ang Tepuia, Haze’s mother, said she had hoped Marlborough Netball would change their rules, allowing boys to play while they were still at school.
“Ideally it would have been best if [Haze] was able to finish his schooling off here while playing, before moving out of the region to continue his sport. But it hasn’t happened like that, so we will just have to see how we go.
“If [Marlborough Netball] are encouraging and promoting the sport, there has to be a pathway for them to go on … these kids put so much into their sport and you can’t let them get to 15 then say, ‘there’s nothing else for you until you move out of the region’. [The MNA] haven’t looked at the bigger picture.
“They are men when they have finished school, not while they are still kids and in high school,” she said.
“Kids are being encouraged to keep playing sport, plus stay in school, so it would be an incentive for them if they are able to continue with their sport while still at school. That would be a pretty good outcome.”
Haze is emphatic that he will continue playing the game he loves, although he will not have a regular weekly competition to take part in. He drives to Christchurch every second weekend to train with the mixed team and is investigating the possibility of playing senior netball in Kaikoura.
The lofty goal shoot says the situation he has found himself in “sucks”.
“I’m a little angry and frustrated … there are a lot of emotions right now. But this is definitely not going to stop me getting to where I want to in my sport.”
Ang said that when Marlborough Netball got a mixed competition up and running, Haze would relish being involved.
He has been moved by several messages offering support, notably from NZ men’s goal shoot Junior Levi.
Jackson McLaren, a young man who has competed in premier grade for Harlequins over the past two seasons and is also Year 13 at MBC, has decided not to play this year.
Under Netball New Zealand rules, males can play the sport without restriction until they are 12. In Marlborough, that age limit is raised to 15.
An all-male team featured in the local premier competition from 2007 until 2014, when they were removed from the grade at the request of the other teams after their matches became uncompetitive in the men's favour.