Three generations join together at the Summerset National Fours


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Ready for battle at the Rotorua Gardens (from left) : Caitlin Thomson, Marilyn Constantine, June Smith and Angela Stephen

On the face of it, there was seemingly nothing remarkable about the Tauranga Domain Bowling Club team of June Smith, Ange Stephen, Caitlin Thomson and Marilyn Constantine who fronted up at the Summerset National Fours in the Bay earlier this year.

Sure.  Skip Ange Stephen had been in Debbie White’s team who were runners-up in the Fours at Naenae last year.  So it was a surprise when a more fancied team skipped by Ashleigh Jeffcoat went down to Stephen’s team at the Rotorua Gardens in the first round of the round-robin.  Suddenly an unremarkable team was starting to look less unremarkable.

Even more so when they qualified, and in the first post-qualification round pushed a team of bowls names skipped by Mandy Boyd.

On another day, it could have been a really remarkable result.

However, what was still remarkable was that perhaps for the first time in the Nationals …. ever … a Fours team contained 3 generations : 75 year old grandmother June Smith, 47 year-old mother Ange Stephen, and 19 year-old daughter Caitlin Thomson … supported by ring-in Marilyn Constantine.

“Although the three of us had played together a fair bit, we only entered the nationals because they were in Tauranga where we lived,” says Ange, “We were lucky that Marilyn was at a loose end and was willing to join the team.”

Grandmother June Smith was the only veteran player in the team.  “Mum has been playing bowls on and off for over 30 years, most of the time in Whangarei where she came under the watchful eye of coach Ann Muir.  She came to live with me In Dunedin to help with childcare in 1997 and moved with us to Tauranga in 2002.”

Daughter Caitlin Thomson only casually started bowls a couple of years ago. “I managed to get her down to the club to play a game, and we discovered she was a natural.  Particularly when it came to sending the jack straight down the middle.  She was used to handling a jack-sized hockey ball at school.  It made her a great lead.”

Even Ange herself was only in her fifth year.  “As an anaesthetist at Tauranga Hospital, and bringing up kids at the same time, I had always never had time for bowls,” says Ange, “but when I went part-time, I decided to go down to the club with mum for a bit of a laugh.  I loved it.  And have never looked back since.”

Ange’s partner, Cliff Webber, is a very competitive bowler, and there’s a lot of bowls talk over the dinner table.  “And although my son has a set of bowls, spending time on his device is far more attractive to a 12 year old.”

At home in Tauranga (from left) : June Smith, Angela Stephen and Caitlin Thomson

Normally, June, Ange, Caitlin and Marilyn would have been playing a lot more bowls since the Nationals in March.  After all, in the sunny, winterless bay, lawn bowls is an all-year round pastime.

But COVID put a stop to that.  And also swallowed anaesthetist Ange into essential service duties.

“It was a big unknown at the start of Level 4 lockdown,” she says. “We didn’t know what was going to hit us.  And it was weird getting dressed up in PPE all the time.”

“Because we quickly got the virus under control, it actually became quiet.  Elective surgeries had been cancelled, and I ended up at a private hospital doing urgent-only public surgery.”

Now things are ‘normalising’, hopefully we will see a lot more of the team on the bowling greens of Tauranga, the Bay and for that matter New Zealand.

Who knows?  In the not too distant future, we may see a great granddaughter join the team, and four generations of the same family may pull off another remarkable bowling coup.

~Rob Davis