She might have been a late convert to the oval ball, but Papamoa’s Tracy-May Hawkins is making her mark on the Bay of Plenty women’s rugby scene.
The mother of five plays for the Rangiuru women’s team and coaches Mount Maunganui College’s girls’ team, a primary girls’ 10-a-side team, the Western Bay of Plenty under-15 girls’ team, and, for the first time this year, the Bay of Plenty under-15 girls’ team.
Netball was her original sport of choice and she was good at it too – playing for both the Southland and Hawke’s Bay under-21 teams.
In 2003, at the age of 26, her mother passed away and she needed to vent some frustration.
“I decided to take up rugby,” says Tracy-May. “There was a group of five or six of us playing netball who supported our partners playing rugby, then we saw the rugby girls play and thought ‘if they can do it, we can too’. So we did.”
They found themselves a coach and they were away. “That first year we never scored a try, but then the second year we came third in the competition and a few of us were selected for the Hawke’s Bay Tuis.”
A few years later Tracy-May tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, which inadvertently set her on a coaching path with her son Bailyn’s team. He has just returned from France after competing for New Zealand at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
“I always remind him to remember who his first coach was,” she laughs.
Tracy-May ended up in Papamoa about eight years ago after travelling here to watch her partner play in a sevens tournament.
“I decided if I ever moved it would be here, so I did.”
It was a few years before she took up rugby again herself, but she was closely involved in son Zarn’s, rise through the junior ranks. He is currently studying at Kings College in Auckland where he plays for the First XV.
“I decided I missed the dirt and the grass smell and I had to get back on the field.” She played for Arataki for a few years before dislocating her shoulder and putting herself out of action again.
At 40 she decided she really needed to rest her body, but the pull of the game was too strong and she is back playing rugby for Rangiuru, as well as playing netball.
Her daughter, Meeah-May, and niece, Imij, also play rugby and netball and she travels to Auckland once a fortnight to watch Zarn play.
“The three of us went shopping recently and bought three mouth guards and three pairs of netball undies. We all cracked up!”
While most of us would shy away from playing, supporting or coaching sports seven days a week, Tracy-May says it’s something she’s always done with her children.
“They’re all sporty and it’s good for them to be involved in different codes with different coaches. It teaches them a lot.
“I love the bond you have with the players. It’s like being part of a huge family. That’s the drawcard for me.
“There is so much suicide and young girls going off the rails. I thought ‘if I can bring that same bond and sense of family into a school team, it would help them through their school life’. That’s what I want to try and bring for these young girls.”
She started coaching the Mount Maunganui College girls’ team last year, with more girls not knowing how to play the game than those that did.
“They were scoring tries and two of my younger girls, who had never played before, ended up being my best tacklers by the end of the year. Players like that make me want to keep on coaching.
“It blows me away when I teach them something and see them doing it on the field the next day.”
Tracy-May was then invited to coach the Western Bay of Plenty under-15 girls team.
“I was a bit nervous,” she says, “because we only have enough players at MMC to play sevens or 10s and Western Bay was 15-a-side. I found it exciting; another step up. And it was good to see the girls so interested.”
She will do it again this year, as well as coaching the Bay of Plenty under-15 team toward the end of the season.
“Last year the team included a lot of my girls,” she says, “and they went to another coach and I didn’t feel part of it. So I’m really excited that I’m going to be carrying on through with them.”
Bay of Plenty women’s rugby development manager Les Elder says Tracy-May is a huge contributor to women’s rugby in the region and has a great rapport with the girls she coaches.
“She creates an environment for them that is welcoming and positive and full of fun,” says Les.
“It’s important to have people like Tracy-May leading sport in the region.
“It’s also important to have quality people leading quality programmes, and that’s exactly what we’ve identified in Tracy-May. She thinks about what is best for the player and best for the game.”