Kittyhawk Under 21s rises like a phoenix (or maybe a kittyhawk!) from the ashes

If you’ve only been around a short while in the sport of bowls (and a ‘short while’ can mean anything less than 20 years in lawn bowls!), you’d be forgiven for never having heard of ‘Kittyhawks’ … or even having any idea what ‘Kittyhawks’ are … other than perhaps a fan club of a veteran World War 2 aircraft or fanciers of a special falcon bird.

The Kittyhawk Bowling Club is a very informal bowls grouping that sits outside the conventional Club-Centre-National bowls hierarchy … like the Eagles Golfing Society does in golf or the Queen Street Cricket Club does in cricket or the Barbarians Rugby Club does in rugby.

It was formed back in 1977/1978 to promote the game of bowls, particularly among young people, and to raise money for charitable causes (in particular the Halberg Trust).

It was, and is, an invitation-only club, limited to 120 members, who characteristically are well-known for having given much to the sport of bowls over the years …. and are shamelessly willing to squeeze the wallets and Apple Pays of the well-healed, at the same time zealously and passionately encouraging bowls in the younger.

They are ‘worthy’ people.  And ‘Kittyhawks’ may seem a secretive society, but it’s not.  At bowls gatherings, members may be called to pop up from their seats like whack-a-moles at a carnival arcade.  That may seem strange, but they are rarely feted.  So when it happens, please applaud them for their wonderful efforts.

Unfortunately, after many years of running the Kittyhawk Under 21 Singles (a breeding ground for our young Blackjacks) the tournament stopped in 2018.  For no particular reason … it became just like many other bowling tournaments that have waxed and waned over the years throughout the country …and the waxing was now replaced with waning.

Until 2024.

Brady Amer, the enthusiast behind youth bowls in the Wellington Centre, and a past participant in the Kittyhawks tourney from 2013 to 2017, decided that it was time for Kittyhawks to return.

“We approached the club about kickstarting the tournament, and they were of course thrilled.  So earlier this year, we held the tournament at Naenae with a field of 28 Under 21 bowlers … the youngest was 13 and the oldest scraped in under the 21 year old cut.”

“It was a great re-start,” adds Brady. “So good that we’re already planning the tournament again next year at Naenae … but probably moving it to Easter when it was traditionally held.”

The tournament will once again be ‘mixed’, which is the way it first started in 1992.  It was ‘separated’ in 2002, and separate boys’ and girls’ trophies handed out to the winners.  But in a nod to our trending genderless sport, the former boys’ trophy is now handed out to the overall winner, and the girl’s trophy given over to best girl.  It’s an acknowledgement of this transitional period of providing positive reinforcement to gender equality.

 “Girls are often intimidated by the boys,” observes Brady.  “I’m not saying ALL girls … I can think of some who that wouldn’t even begin to apply to … but we’ve found that most girls play more freely with other girls.”

“Back in the day, the tournament used to attract entries from 40 boys and 32 girls.  What’s more, the winners received $1,000 prize money, a set of bowls, and the opportunity to play with a Blackjack.  We want to get back to that sort of level of recognition.”

For this years’ winners : Camron Horo from Rahotu Bowling Club in Taranaki (overall winner) and Hannah Dawson from Pakuranga Bowling Club in Auckland (girls’ winner), the spoils were a little more modest : a trophy, a set of Taylor bowls and bowls bag, and of course, the prestige of winning.

And all participants enjoyed the food provided by Nulook Kapiti.

Who knows what could happen next year … particularly with a fired-up Brady Amer leading the charge.

Keep up the good work, Brady.  And thanks for your support Taylor and Nulook.  And of course, the Kittyhawk Bowling Club.