England’s Graham Whyte shares his adoration for American football, also known as the Gridiron – and hopes to see it grow here in the Bay of Plenty.
Graham is part of a new program by the New Zealand Football Association, called ‘The Champion’s Project’, which is working to develop American football in New Zealand schools and colleges.
The Englishman, who absolutely loves American sport, has been playing since the early 1980s and has been on the pitch at national level in the UK.
Previously the head coach of the local American football team – the Tauranga City Tridents who are currently preparing for the national final in Auckland in October – Graham is now working to grow American football among local youth.
“Children are interested in anything new, aren’t they? Graham said. “And if it’s running around catching a ball with their friends, then that’s great, you know…kids really are the future.”
Quincy Gill of Mount Intermediate. Photo: John Borren.
The version of football the program presents to school children is non-contact and involves five-on-five players.
“I would say the closest thing would be ripper rugby so basically kids wear a belt with tags on and instead of tackling the contact they just rip the tag off and then tackle them are done,” says Graham.
“It’s a way to get kids into the sport without the equipment and equipment cost you need.”
Dillon Dhir of Mount Intermediate with the soccer ball. Photo: John Borren.
Graham has already started visiting Western BOP schools, enticing kids to play the summer sport later in the year. So far, the response has been excellent, says Graham.
“They love it already…the enthusiasm is there. Introductory sessions led Mount Intermediate students to attend weekend practice sessions, as they enjoyed their school experience.
Mount Intermediate’s Ella Jackson has her eyes on the ball and threw herself into the new game with great enthusiasm. Photo: John Borren.
Graham says the game is for everyone.
“One of the things we encourage is girls – we want girls to be fully involved in sport as much as anyone and students of all levels…we are inclusive and want everyone everyone tries it”.
He will continue to generate interest in the game over the next six months and has set goals for the future.
“Hopefully one day new clubs will open and there will be competition in the area and then we can go on and take on Auckland!”
To inquire about sports in the BOP, email Graham Whyte at: [email protected]
Mount Intermediate’s Katia Harris tried her hand at American football during Graham’s school visit. Photo: John Borren.