New Zealand’s oldest athletics club turns 150

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The South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club's 150th celebrations took place on Saturday, a year after reaching the milestone due to Covid-19 disruptions.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

The South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations took place on Saturday, a year after reaching the milestone due to Covid-19 disruptions.

The nation’s oldest athletics club got down on its knees on Saturday, celebrating its 150th anniversary in style, with an athletics-themed cake, a variety of activities, memorabilia and famous faces.

The South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations were set for Labor weekend 2021 but were postponed to 2022 due to Covid-19 concerns, making this year their 151st anniversary.

Inspired by a club program from 1872, the activities were based on athletic events that would have taken place 150 years ago, with imperial measurements, jumping events and throwing events such as a throwing a stone and throwing a cricket ball.

President Grant Lord said there was “a really nice atmosphere” at the celebrations.

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“All the athletes, and some of the parents, participated in the activities,” he said.

“We also had athletes from yesteryear running around the track and remembering what they had done on the grass track.”

SCAA members, New Zealand women’s heptathlon champion Christina Ryan, and Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh were all in attendance.

“They spent quite a bit of time with the kids, and the kids enjoyed that. There were photos taken left, right and center.

SCAAC members Ethan Hole and Charlotte Blake cutting the 150th anniversary cake at Saturday's event.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

SCAAC members Ethan Hole and Charlotte Blake cutting the 150th anniversary cake at Saturday’s event.

“They participated in some events with the young people. Christina and Lauren participated in the hurdle races and a one mile relay, Tom participated in the tennis ball toss.

Lord wouldn’t divulge if the world-class competitors blitzed the field at the 150-year-old events.

“It was about competing, going to the park and just celebrating, and doing something that we wouldn’t normally do.”

A personalized cake decorated with the 400 meter track and club banner was also presented.

Olympic medalist Tom Walsh, South Canterbury Athletics Club vice-president Mike Bunckenburg, Olympian Lauren Bruce and heptathlon champion Christina Ryan prepare to compete in the stone throw event at the 150th anniversary event anniversary of the South Canterbury Athletics Club.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Olympic medalist Tom Walsh, South Canterbury Athletics Club vice-president Mike Bunckenburg, Olympian Lauren Bruce and heptathlon champion Christina Ryan prepare to compete in the stone throw event at the 150th anniversary event anniversary of the South Canterbury Athletics Club.

Lord said one of the highlights was the presentation room which displayed collections of trophies and memorabilia “from the last century and the one before, scrapbooks of newspapers, Tom brought his collection including his Halberg Prize, a Colgate collection and others”.

A Saturday meal at Benny’s Again was well attended, with former Timaru Boys High School principal Kevin O’Sullivan asking questions of Tom Walsh and Lauren Bruce, he said.

Lord said the club’s position as the oldest in the country is not front and center most of the time, but the club’s history and development are clear.

“You don’t really think about it until you’ve done the research, and then you can see how athletics has evolved from a men’s club to an all-inclusive club that anyone can afford to go to. ‘join.’

Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh during South Canterbury Athletics Club's 150th celebrations.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh during South Canterbury Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations.

He said the club caters to all ages, with a “substantial chunk” of club members 16 and under, “but we go down to adults like Tom and Lauren obviously, and master athlete Wayne Doyle.”

Lord said that in the three decades he had been involved, there had been a decline in the number of young people getting involved in the sport in general.

“At the same time, all clubs – basketball, hockey, football, rugby, mountain biking, etc. – give children the opportunity to do whatever they want.”

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