It’s never really been questioned the undeniable influence that all Vantage Black Sticks players have on younger kids. After returning home from the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast with a gold medal, the Vantage Black Sticks Women from Northland were able to see their influence first hand.
All five Northlanders including Ella Gunson, Samantha Harrison, Brooke Neal, Madison Doar, and current Vantage Black Sticks captain Stacey Michelsen alongside their coach Mark Hager were treated to a golden parade organised by Northland’s very own Sue Shepherd. Locals were able to catch a glimpse and even hold the gold medals of their local sportswomen upon returning to their home location.
Two weeks prior to this event taking place Te Horo school, a school located in a small rural town near Whangarei, had been doing their research on a couple of Northland’s Black Sticks. Sandra Toapuho, Te Horo school’s principal, introduced an exciting topic to students in term 2 which encapsulated “well known people, people that we admire in the community”.
She decided it was important to build a connection with players who had a link to the school and as such decided to write them letters after doing some research. As it turned out Brooke Neal’s father prints the school magazine every year, Stacey Michelsen’s sister teaches at the school and Sam Harrison’s father is a builder as well as coincidentally being Sandra’s neighbor. “We focused on player’s that I could guarantee I’d be able to get letters to, to say how proud we were of them,” Sandra explains.
With such great success achieved by the Black Sticks Women at the Commonwealth Games Sandra decided it would be a great idea to do a piece on another great accomplishment at the games. One moment that only a handful of athletes are lucky enough to have the honour of – being the New Zealand flag bearer at the closing ceremony. This just happened to be Northland’s own Stacey Michelsen.
“A few days prior to the parade I thought it would be really cool to write a bit of a role play to motivate the 5, 6 and 7-year olds,” said Sandra. “I chose a very quiet, very studious, hard working but not very confident little girl, Coco, to act as Stacey Michelsen. When I chose her she just beamed”.
The role play followed with everyone including Sandra following Coco, pretending to be Stacey Michelsen, around the classroom where she weaved through desks and chairs whilst holding the New Zealand flag proudly and the rest of the class pretending to be the remaining NZ team.
Finally, the day of the golden parade arrived. Now Te Horo is situated 40 minutes away from Whangarei which Sandra mentions “to travel into town can be a challenge for our families because our community is predominantly low decile. Financially that can be a bit of a hardship too.” Putting that aside, Principal Sandra Toapuho and her students made their way down to the town basin to watch the parade unfold, “we heard that Northland were recognising our local Black Sticks so we thought it was something we definitely couldn’t miss out on”.
Unbeknownst to Sandra until she saw a picture of Coco with Stacey holding her medal in the newspaper did she realise how much of an impact this had made to this little girl’s life.
“You just saw her blossom. You could visibly see how confident and proud she was so it was a bit of a tear jerker. She’s so much more confident in all areas of her learning. She’s not just the quiet little girl that didn’t have much to say now, but someone that just beams at you when you come into the room and can’t wait to show you her story that she’s written that day” Sandra adds. “For them to take the time to acknowledge the kids at the parade for me as a principal and a teacher, it was fantastic”.
She reiterates how they are very grateful for having such great role models from the Black Sticks not only from Northland but from within the whole squad. With a lot of excitement through watching the Commonwealth Games it’s clear to see a few more keen hockey watchers from Te Horo. Sandra is optimistic that “maybe this will be a step towards a hockey player from Te Horo”.