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How it all started

Maikeli Seru
Thursday, April 20, 2017

EVERY year on the last week of Term One, Fiji secondary schools best athletes gather to compete against each other, and for a chance to be forever remembered by their peers.

The annual games are Fiji's version of schools basketball championships in the United States - big crowd, very popular and very demanding. It features the best from each school. Those who play are role models, heroes and stars of their schools — everyone wants to be their friends.

A student may accomplish a lot of things in life, but to be known as a student who participated in the Fiji Secondary schools Athletics Association finals, now known as the Coca-Cola Games because of sponsorship, is a dream all Fijian students want to achieve.

They are remembered forever because they are their school's idols and the games champions.

For half a Century, to be exact 55 years, this has been the trend among Fijian students.

The big day is here again, the 2017 Coca-Cola Games.

How did the games begin?

Today, and the next two days, 147 schools featuring 2495 students will meet at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.

While it is now called the Fiji Sports Council Laucala Bay Sporting Complex, history tells that this very annual schools competition helped in the building of the complex which Fijians now boast today.

Originally called Buckhurst Park, Wikipedia repots, the stadium was constructed in 1951 on 16 hectares of land given by a William H. B. Buckhurst in 1948. He is believed to be a government official at that time.

Back to the games, one of the founding members of the then Fiji Schools Athletics Association is Graham Eden, known today as Fiji's Rugby Voice.

He arrived in Fiji from New Zealand as a physical education teacher and had been involved in the Canterbury Inter-Secondary School athletics.

He spearheaded the start of the competition helped by countrymen Mike Blamires, a teacher who was also involved in the Auckland Secondary Schools competition, and another teacher from the south of New Zealand.

"I came in January 1961, and we had a Suva Grammar School sports meet with other schools. We did not meet any other schools after that, but made arrangements for 1962 with schools in Suva.

"We really went to town with it. We loved the hard work and the fun and it was the beginning of the Fiji Finals. There was the Juicy Games and it has become a multi-school games. We saw that there were talents and I and Blamires said 'Why can't we develop the talents" as we have our schools experience in New Zealand. Why don't we do it with Fiji and that was how it all began. We put the effort into it and started it off. I started as the first secretary of the association and of the Fiji Amateur Athletics Association. I was supposed to be the announcer for the 1962 games, but I was asked to do my first commentating in the 1963 South Pacific Games."

Eden commended the growth of the games because it exposed Fijian athletes —from the inaugural meeting, to date.

"There were athletes like Dr Robin Mitchel who was the sprint champ from Levuka who came to Suva Grammar and we had to change him from the sprints to be a hurdler and that's where he won bronze medal in the 1963 South Pacific Games. There was Jone Kama who competed in the triple jump and many others."

The start was hard and Suva Grammar students and teachers led the way in what is today the biggest annual sporting festival in the Pacific which has exposed champions every year.

"I used the physical education group from Suva Grammar and we used to mark in black oil the grass tracks, and would be used several years. In 1961 Suva Grammar had the first run and I can't remember whether Marist Brothers was included. In 1962, I think it was five to six schools. It was basically hosted by Suva Grammar because we had the officials and also with the help of the Fiji Amateur Athletics Association which was headed then by Bill Ragg who was influential in the acquiring of Buckhurst Park .

Fiji Secondary Schools Athletics Association president Marika Uluinaceva welcomes the schools and their heroes to another three days of competition.

The sound of running feet on synthetic tracks will be different from the Eden era. Today the cheers will ring the loudest across the Laucala Bay sporting bowl accompanied by the fanfare of the Coca-Cola Games andthe colourful display of teams' uniforms, the crowd, and the cheer leaders.

But for half a century, the theme since 1962 remains the same - developing young Fijian sporting talents. Let the Games begin.

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