Countdown to the AIMS Games – Vicki Semple organises Australasia’s biggest school sporting event
In 2004, on her first day in a new role at Sport Bay of Plenty, Vicki Semple was called into a meeting with the four principals of the Western Bay of Plenty Intermediate Schools. They were meeting to discuss an idea to run a sporting event in Tauranga involving Year 7 and 8 students from throughout the country.
The idea sprung to life and Vicki – herself an old girl of Otumoetai Intermediate – became swept up in organising the first AIMS Games, held later that year and comprising four sporting codes, 17 schools and 750 competitors. (AIMS stands for Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools).
Fast forward to 2017 and Vicki is busy with the 14th AIMS Games, now called the Anchor AIMS Games, taking place from 10-15th September, and bringing nearly 10,000 competitors, coaches and supporters to the Bay of Plenty for a week of competitive sport.
That chance meeting back in 2004 was fortuitous as Vicki has run every AIMS Games since, alongside an organising committee which includes the six AIMS trustees – the principals of Tauranga, Otumoetai, Mt Maunganui and Te Puke Intermediates, Sport BOP CEO and a mayoral representative. At the end of 2015 the trustees contracted Vicki to work full-time as Tournament Director.
Last year the event, which is always held in the Bay of Plenty, welcomed 9300 students from 275 schools to the region, competing in 21 sporting codes. A few years ago it went international, with teams travelling from Australia and the Cook Islands. A report into the economic benefit of last year’s event estimates visitors to the region – including teachers, coaches and supporters – spent $2.5M during AIMS week. It’s the biggest school sporting event in Australasia and twice the size of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in terms of athletes competing.
Apart from the occasional panic moment in the middle of the night, Vicki is not daunted by the organisation required for an event of this size. After 14 years in her role as Tournament Director she has chunked her to-do list into a month-by-month schedule of tasks, starting as soon as the previous year’s event is complete.
“I love systems and organising, but I’m also always looking for new initiatives to make the event better. I never take it for granted that I know everything,” she says. “I’m definitely a people person too and I’m lucky to work with so many inspirational, really positive people.”
During the year Vicki visits schools throughout the country, goes on promotional tours with sporting ambassadors, works with national sporting bodies and sponsors – including new premier sponsor Anchor – as well as the 21 individual code co-ordinators, who are predominantly located in Tauranga and all are experts in their particular sport.
“It’s a professional tournament and we want to run it at the highest level possible and adhere to national body rules and regulations. We also provide umpires and referees for the codes, so run mentoring and training programmes throughout the year. It’s fantastic for the Western Bay because we’re up skilling personnel in our region and building expertise in local clubs.”
Every year the event gets bigger and Vicki says keeping it fresh, exciting and inclusive is important. BMX, Canoe Slalom and Futsal were introduced last year to cater for students who prefer individual rather than traditional team sports, and for the first time this year, the Anchor AIMS Games will include dedicated Para sports in swimming and an 800m event at the cross country venue.
“Students with disabilities have always been able to compete in every sporting code but this year we’re working with NZ Para Olympics and Halberg to ensure we run them professionally as dedicated events. We want AIMS to be inclusive for all students and I think it will be an amazing pathway for these kids to come along and see that there could be a future for them in sport.
“It’s also a chance for them to come away and represent their school and be part of a whole team because one of the wonderful things about AIMS is that when you go with your school you go as one team. The camaraderie is fantastic.”
Another initiative – the Waste Watchers recycling programme – was introduced in 2011, where a Green Team of students from local schools manage 20 recycling stations at different venues during tournament week. The initiative enables environmentally minded students to participate, Vicki says.
This year an additional opening ceremony was held to host around 10,000 athletes, coaches and teachers. The growth in numbers participating in AIMS put pressure on the ceremony venue and many schools missed out last year when tickets were snapped up in less than two minutes. Vicki says with the extra ceremony – an exact re-run held later in the evening – everyone was catered for.
“It gets the week started in such a great way and shows the kids they’re involved in a massive event. It’s so nice to see everyone’s work come to fruition at that point and to see the buzz gathering around the city.”
Learning, growing and participating
During tournament week Vicki bases herself at the Blake Park media centre to keep a watchful eye over proceedings, talk with media and watch the young athletes make new friends, learn about team commitment, perseverance, and resilience when things don’t go their way. Vicki says there are always inspirational stories to come out of every AIMS Games, such as the Taneatua Intermediate team – comprising all 12 girls in the school’s intermediate year group – who won the netball 10 years ago, and the “amazing” young woman who last year competed in the BMX event despite being legally blind.
Vicki has also met teachers who remember being involved in AIMS – one teacher who once played in the winning Barclay Intermediate netball team was last year coaching the same school to netball victory. And success stories abound – a Year 13 student recently made the Black Sticks team just five years after playing hockey for Kamo Intermediate (Whangarei) at the AIMS Games.
“Each school has their own philosophy about going to AIMS but most see it as an amazing opportunity to participate, and for most students it will be the biggest sporting event they’ll ever compete in.”
Anchor AIMS Games 2017
The Anchor AIMS Games take place from 10-15 September in the Bay of Plenty and for the first time this year, includes Para sports in swimming and 800m cross country event.
Follow the AIMS Games Facebook page for updates and photographs www.facebook.com/ANCHORAIMSGAMES/