Carolyn Crawford, Graham Skellern and Pam Walker
The Omakau Bowls3Five event is set to become a fixture on the summer events calendar, judging by its success over the last two years.
The small Central Otago club hosted the second edition of the tournament on October 24 and 25, which has garnered rave reviews.
“It was brilliant, everything about it was great,” says former National pairs champion Carolyn Crawford. “They did an amazing job and it was a friendly atmosphere, as well as being highly competitive.
“There was prizemoney down to tenth place, the food was exceptional and the way they did everything was so impressive.”
Crawford, who is also a Para-jack representative, got involved in the tournament after a phone call from organiser Pam Walker. Walker had a late vacancy in the field and was contemplating a Para-Jacks team.
“She has been amazing for our sport with everything she has done, along with her husband (Bruce),” says Crawford. “She asked me about a Para-Jacks team, and I thought it was a great idea. Para-bowls is coming to the forefront and you need those people behind it; when she had that in mind I didn’t hesitate to say yes and come and play.”
With Graham Skellern as skip, the trio had a tough first day in the 16 team event.
“We won three out of six qualifying games but they were all close, quite cut throat,” says Crawford. “That night we were looking at 5th spot being the best that we could hope for, but we had to go for it.”
Skellern’s teams won their final two qualifying matches the following day – both tight affairs – to book a place in the top four.
From there the competition only got more intense.
“Going into the last round all of the teams had one win,” says Crawford. “That shows how close it was.”
But the Para-Jacks team eventually prevailed, finishing on six points and five sets, ahead of defending champions Lake Hawea (Dion Kiddey, Pip Kiddey and Kyle McGowan) who amassed six points and three sets.
“[Lake Hawea] actually beat us twice, once in qualifying and once in top four,” says Crawford. “They were a great team, but we finished ahead in the end.”
Trevor Drake, Linley O’Callaghan and Trevor Ludlow (The Unbowlievables) were third and Gerard Geoffrey, Jamie Koppert and Pauline Seaton (Crackerjacks) rounded out the top four.
The Parajacks’ success was built on team chemistry, according to Crawford.
“We understand each other, and we played our different positions well,” says Crawford. “Graham was skip so he had the last say. We might not have always agreed, but we played our roles.”
Bowls3Five is steadily catching on across New Zealand and Crawford is enthusiastic about the new format.
“It’s great, it really is,” says Crawford. “You are thinking all the time, it keeps you moving, you don’t get bored and you are always in the game. If you are playing 12 ends, or 15 ends and you lose the first five it’s pretty hard to come back but [this format] keeps you in the game.”
From her perspective as a tournament organiser, Walker was thrilled with the weekend.
“It was a step up,” says Walker. “Last year was a bit of a learning curve. The weather couldn’t have been better, the catering was great and the competition was intense…everyone is playing right up until the last game.”
Walker also paid tribute to the contribution of the Omakau members.
“We decided last year we needed to run some kind of tournament and it has gone well,” says Walker. “But it takes a lot of work. We have 12 women [members] – a few over 80 - and about 30 men and they all did their bit.”
Crawford, who won the national pairs title with Anne Muir in 2013 and has 28 centre titles to her credit, hopes their success will build on the momentum created for Para-bowls in this country.
“It needs exposure and people like Pam (secretary of the National Disabled Bowls Association) and Bruce (former Para-Jacks manager) have done so much for the sport.”
It’s likely that Crawford, along with many others, will be heading back to the small settlement between Alexandra and Ranfurly this time next year.
“I can’t say enough about it,” says Crawford. “The atmosphere, the hospitality, the food. They had morning tea, a two-course lunch, afternoon tea and a barbecue dinner each night, as well as a free drink. I said to Bruce…’I don’t know how you guys are doing this.”
By Michael Burgess