When Adam Baillie arrived in Christchurch for the Burnside Under-26 singles last week, he had few expectations.
At 18, the Papakura bowler was the youngest in the field and had only three years of bowls experience behind him, though with some promising results, including third place in the 2019 National Secondary Schools singles tournament.
Baillie was looking forward to a fun experience, but realised he was one of the underdogs at the 17th edition of the prestigious youth tournament.
That feeling intensified when he cast his eyes down the entry list; there were four former champions in the field, three Black Jacks and a total of 14 players who had represented New Zealand at senior or development level in the 32-strong field.
“I wanted to experience a new tournament and see how I would fare against these tough competitors,” said Baillie. “My coach Margaret [Davies] recommended I enter. I wanted to challenge myself.”
He did that, and more, over an exceptional weekend.
By last Sunday lunchtime there were only two competitors still standing and the former Massey High School student was one of them. He was narrowly beaten in the final, but Baillie has already provided a genuine feel good story early in the bowls season.
“It was really nerve wracking to be playing such strong opponents,” admitted Baillie. “I was just trying to focus really hard on my game and it was really hard but rewarding at the end. I was nervous but excited to play and I knew I could only do my best.”
Baillie won five of his seven section play matches, including a win over 2018 Commonwealth Games men’s pair bronze medallist Aidan Zittersteijn (Paritutu).
After numbers were crunched, it was eventually confirmed that he had done enough to qualify for post section play. Baillie, who made the trip south with his Mum Janet, began to ponder what was ahead.
“I was nervous but excited to play and I knew I could only do my best,” said Baillie, as he contemplated the last eight.
He defeated top Auckland player Aiden Takarua (Point Chevalier) in his quarter final (21-17) , then edged the well-performed Anthony Ouellet (Bowls Tauranga South) in the semi-final (21-20).
The final, against Mangere’s Taylor Horn, was another close contest, with Horn prevailing 21-18 in a compelling decider.
“I was so happy and proud of myself,” said Baillie. “I didn’t expect to make it that far when I was up against some amazing competitors. All in all, just really proud, but it was so nerve wracking.”
Baillie’s bowls journey started when he was 15, on a trip to the far North to stay with his Aunt Judy Boag.
“She took us to the [Keri Keri] bowling club and let me play a few bowls with her,” says Baillie. “She saw some potential in me and has been encouraging me ever since.”
Adam’s mother Janet says it was a pivotal trip.
“I think they had a business house tournament on and one of the teams was short of the player,” says Janet. “[Judy] told us that Adam had some potential and she put us on to [coach] Margaret Davies at Counties Manukau and we took it from there. He has thrived ever since.”
So what does he enjoy about Bowls?
“I love playing and meeting new people and the social aspects are great too,” says Baillie. “That you can play as an individual and in a team as well, is good. It is also a great sport to play as I am deaf.”
Life isn’t always easy with silence all around you, but Baillie is the proactive type and says his lack of hearing isn’t a significant handicap for his sport.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate with the umpires and markers, but being deaf does not impact on me too much,” says Baillie. “In some ways I think it helps me, as I can concentrate on the game more.”
He has certainly made significant progress. Baillie took out the Auckland Secondary Schools pair title earlier this year and was a Counties Manukau representative player in the 2019/20 season. He also won the men’s singles at the New Zealand Deaf Lawn Bowls national tournament in 2019.
Have a look below and check out some of the coverage from the weekend. These young bowlers are the cream of the crop, and this is reflected in the standard of bowls that you can see on show below:
Richard Hocking vs Finbar McGuigan