Simon Keller

In this series, we cast our eye upon other running clubs around New Zealand.

At the Rotorua Convention Centre, October 2016, Scottish hearts sank. After finishing equal first on points with three other clubs, we learned that following a countback, we would be the only one of the four not to share the title of top club. For Auckland City Athletics, in contrast, it was a moment of joy. Powered by a victory for their Junior Women, a second-place finish for their Men’s 40s, and third-place finishes for their Junior and Senior Men, ACA for the first time won a share of the clubs competition at the National Road Relays.

Club president David Lear was especially thrilled with the club’s success at Road Relays because it included contributions from men’s and women’s teams, and from juniors, seniors, and masters. ACA aims to be a high-achieving club at the adult levels, while also working to bring children into the sport.

The club came into being in 1998, through the merger of the senior sections of Owairaka Athletics and College Rifles. Owairaka and College Rifles have since maintained their separate identities as junior clubs, and Owairaka has begun to rebuild its own senior team. ACA, meanwhile, has become one of the major clubs in the Auckland region, and has moved beyond its roots as a senior club to cover all ages and abilities. Across the grades, ACA now has around 150 members, a number that has held steady for the past few years.

One of the most impressive features of ACA is its list of coaches. Just scanning the coaching page of their website brings back rich memories of New Zealand’s athletics history. There is Barry Magee, well-known to Scottish members from his speaking visit in 2010, and as a coach of several Scottish members; when I was a child I memorised every word of the accounts of his medal-winning performance in the 1960 Olympic marathon, and his role in New Zealand’s world-record-breaking 4x1mile team. There is Kerry Rodger, Commonwealth Games and World Championships representative, whose autograph I managed to secure after a 3000m at Olympic Park in Melbourne in 1990. And beyond the distance coaches, ACA also has specialised coaches in sprints, jumps, and multi events.

The coaching programme is a central attraction for ACA, with coaching provided for free to club members. It is also a part of ACA’s outreach to junior athletes. ACA holds weekly coaching sessions at Cornwall Park, designed for 9-12 year old children and open to all, club members or not. As David says, the point of the sessions is to help children to develop a love of running, and “if they join ACA, that would be a bonus”.

ACA operates as a genuine year-round club, focusing as much on track and field as on the harrier and roads seasons. Over the summer it hosts competitive club meets on Wednesday evenings at Mt Smart Stadium. The Wednesday club nights are particularly attractive to the club’s younger members, who take the chance to challenge each other to races week after week, and to compete regularly in a world-class athletics facility.

Like all amateur sporting clubs, ACA’s health depends on the work of volunteers, and David says that one challenge faced by the club is to spread the administrative load more evenly; presently there is a small group that does the majority of work. 

ACA sees itself as a welcoming club, providing an encouraging environment for everyone who enjoys running and athletics. But the club has its competitive goals too, and at the top tier it is a club on the rise. In just a few short weeks, we will meet them in Rotorua, ready once again to face off again in the competition for top club in New Zealand.