Millers Flat Seven-a-Side

Words Adrian Morgan | Images Clare Toia-Bailey

If you have played country rugby in Otago over the last 100 years it’s likely that you have played in the Millers Flat seven-a-side tournament. Some of the kids playing in the tournament held in August were following in the footsteps of their father, grandfather and even great-grandfather in some cases.

The tournament is held in the first week of August each year and usually signals the end of the season for most junior players. The tournament brings together teams from throughout the Clutha, Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes districts.

The Millers Flat tournament dates back to 1912 and commenced at a time when seven-a-side football tournaments, as they were called, were very common in the Tuapeka, Vincent and Maniototo counties. These tournaments were commonly organised to raise money for local patriotic funds during the First World War and often included both senior and junior players. During this period, these tournaments were annual events in towns such as Lawrence, Beaumont, Millers Flat, Roxburgh, Heriot, Clyde, Bannockburn, Cromwell, Alexandra and Ranfurly.

Mt Benger Mail, 24 July 1912
Mt Benger Mail, 24 July 1912

The Millers Flat tournament includes both rugby and netball competitions and is run by a group of busy volunteers from the Millers Flat community. For a town with a population of only 200, the addition of 67 rugby teams and 21 netball teams certainly swells the population of the town.

The tournament is one of the main fundraisers for the Millers Flat School. With only 19 families, the School depends on the support of the Millers Flat community to help out – the PTA run a canteen with plenty of home made soup and local Jimmy’s pies and local lads get busy on the BBQ. Altogether making it an enjoyable day out for participants and spectators alike.

The funds raised at the tournament deliver significant additional funding for the local school. Millers Flat School Principal, Hilary Spedding, says that this year the funds will be used to fund an additional teaching resource for two terms.

Since 1998, the tournament has been organised by John and Trudi Mckinnel. When Millers Flat School took over the former Teviot Tournament, John and Trudi put up their hands to keep the tournament going. School, Office Manager and tournament netball coordinator, Anne Johnston, say’s that ‘without John and Trudi’s knowledge and commitment the tournament wouldn’t be what it is today’.

Anne Johnston Anne Johnston – Millers Flat Tournament Volunteer

Before the start of the tournament this year we had a quick chat with Trudi and John and took some photos of them while they were hard at work. They were very busy updating draws and liaising with parents and coaches. Despite a delayed start due to the weather, it was a beautiful day in Millers Flat and everything was running smoothly. But to get to that stage a significant amount of work had gone into preparing for the tournament: registering teams, coordinating volunteers, preparing team packs, managing logistics, communicating with clubs and so on. It’s a huge amount of work and the McKinnels have done a fantastic job, once again.

The 2016 tournament is the last tournament the Mckinnel’s will manage. They are hanging up their clip boards, passing on the walkie talkies and relishing the prospect of a well deserved break during first week of August for the first time in almost two decades. Next year Scott & Deidre Perkins from Raes Junction will take over the organisation of the tournament. We wish them all the best and hope that all the rugby and netball clubs, players, supporters and volunteers continue to support a tournament with such a long history that makes such a big contribution to a small community.

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