Grasshoppers Cricket Club seems like a permanent fixture in the Western Bay of Plenty B Grade competition. The one team club welds together a genuine enjoyment of the game with friendly competitive play. The Hoppers encompass fair play, respect for the opposition, always playing within the rules of the game and providing a friendly social environment within the game of cricket.
In this edition of Grassroots Champions, longtime Hoppers player and administrator Kerry Blomquist tells us about some of the Grasshoppers history.
When and how did Grasshoppers come into existence?
Tauranga Grasshoppers Cricket was born when a group of drinking buddies from the Tauranga Commercial Travelers Club, agreed to enter a team in the Tauranga Cricket Association local cricket Saturday league at a B grade (Social) level, back in 1983.
The foundation for the Hoppers was predominantly built on mate-ship and comradary. This culture has very much contributed to the impressive success achieved over the years. The Hoppers longevity is definitely down to members encouraging friends to come along and enjoy the sport of cricket, coupled with an extremely healthy social culture.
How long have you been a Hopper?
I am not one hundred per cent sure when I joined.....I believe it was around '85, '86
Tell us about the Grasshoppers early days
As I mentioned, in the early days, the cricket was extremely social. Not a lot of emphasis was put on winning. It was very much an afternoon of sporting endeavour with a couple of quiets before and after the match.
Hoppers cricket quickly morphed with a more competitive approach to the game, without losing the social aspect, when an increase in the skill level was achieved with the introduction of, "actual cricketers" who, when combined with existing players became, in just a couple of seasons, a force and a real threat in the local league.
Tell us about some of the early players in the side
In the early days the club was definitely not blessed with too many skilled cricketers and over the years, the squads have been an eclectic mix from all walks of life, ethnicity and sporting backgrounds.
There have been, Builders, Plumbers, Company Executives, Farmers, Orchardists, Jewellers, Entrepreneurs, Salesman, I.T technicians, Antique Dealers, Butchers........and the list goes on.
White collar, Blue collar.........Asians, Poms, South Africans, Kiwis and I am a little reluctant to admit, but we have even had a couple of Aussies as well. Softballers, Rugby Players, Hockey Players, an AFL Player, Golfers, Soccer Players and Poker Players.
Over time however the mix also included ex representative cricketers from many different regions of New Zealand. Nelson, Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Western Bay to name a few. In every case....the common denominators have always been........Sport, the enjoyment of the game and the company of your mates..
As stated in the opener.....The game that the Hoppers participate in, is always done with the utmost respect for the sport and its rules and a passion for the game. The social aspect is of course the thread that has kept the Hoppers, current and past, close to the top of the league year after year.
On field banter is also an important characteristic of our membership. The Hoppers are recognised as a team that is above personal sledging, but are never short of an amusing on field quip or two aimed directly at its own members.
Regale us with some of the characters in the team over the years
Naming names is always a risk and I am really not a risk taker. Let's just say that there has always been, over the years, no shortage of extremely funny guys who have over time, offered up a number of very, very funny practical jokes and one liners to entertain the crowd.****All part of the Grasshoppers culture****
Tell us about the trips away and the funny stories to arise out of the trips
You know that "what happens on tour, stays on tour" As you well know, the ultimate success of any trip is not so much about the result but more about the memories.
Due to the very social commitment to the club by some of our members, trips away became integral to the makeup of the Grasshopper psyche. Trips to One day Internationals at Eden Park were always an excuse to fill a bus with personnel and alcohol for a great day out, of which there were many.
We have also traveled to Fiji to compete in a 40/40 tournament called the Compton Cup. Needless to say, it was a hell of a trip but without podium success. I will give you this one - as part of the entry requirement to the Compton Cup, we had to provide our own, non playing traveling umpire.
We managed to convince one of Tauranga's senior umpires at the time to join us on the trip. Rocky Beswick. Rocky passed away many years ago now, so I don't think he will mind me telling you this little story. We stayed at the Fiji International Hotel. We were all accommodated in rooms which were located in a single wing of the Hotel, with access to the rooms via one very long hallway. On this particular evening we were involved in an extremely intense Kava ceremony followed by a kava based after party.
Needless to say, this was Rocky's (as it was for the rest of us) first experience with this root based anesthetic-like beverage. The effects of, usually aren't realized until you either pass out or you attempt to return to wherever you happen to be staying at the time. (If you can remember). It was easy for us, as all we had to do was negotiate one long hallway and remember the number of our rooms.
However when it came time to retire for the evening. Rocky had reached a state of total numbness. He was struggling to manage the basic motor skill of placing one foot in front of the other, resulting in a forward walking motion so he decided to use the wall of the hallway as his guide, transiting the hallway in a diagonal motion only changing direction when he crashed head first into one side then changing direction until he crashed into the wall on the other side.....eventually finding his room by a process of elimination. His room was the one where, when he tried to enter the room, he wasn't abused by the current occupant of said room.
There were many, many, other events over the course of the tournament, beginning at the Auckland airport where much of our duty free alcohol was consumed before we even left New Zealand and ending with arrival back in NZ in a various stages of mild amnesia.
The Grasshoppers traveled to Malaysia and played cricket in temperatures and atmospheric conditions, that can only be described as uncomfortable and extremely dehydrating. Obviously the re-hydration sessions were most entertaining and enjoyable.
We had a two year home and away series with a random team from Papatoetoe, which again was an excuse for a bus trip, which included the consumption of measured quantities of food and refreshments.
Great Barrier Island was one of our more interesting destinations. At Tauranga airport, we filled a small plane with players and another small plane with the necessities of life and endured the most amazing flight along the Eastern coast line before landing in, what can only be described as a farm paddock which had recently been the recipient of a couple of days of torrential rain. Most of us had self medicated during the flight in anticipation of the supposed dangers which were ahead of us. Namely landing a small plane in a rain soaked paddock.
The absolute highlight of this trip was the commute to the cricket ground and the what can only be described as the most unique venue on the planet.
Our commute to the ground was facilitated by a number of small water craft and required open water travel to a tributary, which took us deep into no-where in particular. When we were at the end of the tributary we were greeted by locals with wheel barrows. The trip to the ground itself required us to load the wheel barrows with cricket gear and refreshments and take a short walk, through the beautiful untouched native bush, to a clearing in the middle of no-where hence forth know as."The Cricket Ground".
The ground was surrounded by native bush with the pitch constructed by running a mower over an area in the middle of the clearing, The bowlers could only operated from one end as the other end of the pitch ended roughly five meters from a full blown river, which was protected by a roll of shelter netting attached to a border of well established Manuka trees. No less than four balls were replaced during the course of the match.
I can't remember the outcome of the match but the afternoon BBQ (a sheet of corrugated iron over an open fire) was outstanding. Cricket and comradary were the winners on the day!!!!!
The funds for all the trips were sourced through copious amounts of fundraising, including working bee's, raffles and firewood sales. The firewood activity involved the felling of trees, kindly donated by club members, the splitting of the timber, the transportation of split wood to a central location in Tauranga and then the sale and delivery of the product.
This was the primary source of funds and after many, many hours of labour by all the members and their families, raised thousands of dollars for our trip fund and could only have been achieved by a positive family friendly culture within the club.
What age does the present crop of players range from?
The youngest full playing member is 19 years old with the oldest member still making a significant contribution at 64 years young.
Tell us about the 2019/20 side and the present crop of characters
The crop of characters remains unchanged from our past crop of characters. There are some new ones and some old ones back for another term. A genuine mix of ages, skills and experience with personalities, which all fit the Grasshopper culture, from the passed members to the new ones.
What have been some of the memorable moments in the Grasshoppers history
Again, I refer to the culture that has remained unchanged for the past 36 years. With this culture memorable moments occur every season. For me personally, just playing alongside passed cricket legends such as, Rod Wealleans, Jim Steere, Ross Newton, Stu Abbott, Hugh Gardner and Rex Inglis, just to name a few and current legends Bob Curran, Ben Goodall, Ray Body and Wayne Anderson....and future legends, Andrew Balfour, Chris Savage, Craig Williamson and Dean O'Brien. Those are memories I will hold dear for a lifetime.
Another important memory for me is seeing young average cricketers develop as people and take their newly evolved skill set to a higher level, which has allowed them to compete at a higher level of the game with the help of the older, more experienced heads in the Hoppers environment.
Can you recall and retell some of the outstanding feats on the field
There are too many to accurately recall without leaving out some which would only upset the those of us who really deserve the accolades, but there is one outstanding feat which I will recall for you and can almost guarantee that this feat will not be repeated in Tauranga cricket ever again.
The Hoppers were deep into a match against Albion at the most picturesque ground in Tauranga....Mitchell Park, in the late 1980's early 90's. Albion batsman, John Page, was at the crease and suddenly, without warning, dropped to the ground with what we suspect was either a fit or a heart attack. Grasshopper legend Hugh Gardner. with lightening reactions and without hesitation, sprinted in from the square leg boundary....rolled John into the recovery position and then, recognizing that John was starting to swallow his tongue.......ripped a bail from the top of the stumps and s hoved it into Johns mouth to stop his tongue from choking him to death. The ambulance duly arrived and John was taken to hospital where I believe he made a full recovery.
Obviously not a cricketing feat but certainly an outstanding feat of compassion and awareness of what was potentially a life or death situation.
Who are the longest serving current players in the team and tell us a little about them
If you use the term players loosely....that would be me. I am available to play every Saturday but ask not to be selected if there are younger members available to play. The future of our club is reliant on the introduction of new, younger members and us old fellas need to recognise that these guys or girls want to and need to play.
We currently have 2, 15 year vets that were both poached from other Tauranga based clubs and have been an important part of our club ever since.
We poached Chris Savage from Albion and Andrew Balfour from Mount Maunganui. Both of these guys are top level all-rounders with outstanding skills in all areas of the game. They are both obviously better than B Grade, but have individually made the decision to remain with the Hoppers and have always been critical contributors to the Hoppers many championship successes.
Where to from here for the Hoppers?
Grasshoppers originally affiliated to the Greerton Cricket club for many years however, we collectively felt that the Greerton club gave us very little support. We were very much taken for granted. We decided to divorce ourselves from Greerton and form a breakaway, fully affiliated independent, stand alone club in our own right.
We were approached to affiliate to Tauranga Sports for a couple of seasons until their cricket program hit the wall and was dissolved. We were then totally homeless and spent many years in the wilderness without a home ground, or a club room, to have available to us for after match functions to host and show appreciation to our opposition teams.
A positive resolve to this dilemma was found in the form of support from Rossco's Cafe and Bar until the bar was sold three years ago and the new owners really showed no interest in having us on board. Thankfully, Tracy and Tok from the Cornerstone pub were genuinely excited about the prospect of the Hoppers calling their establishment our home. A happily mutual relationship has now evolved and we are no longer homeless.
Financially we owe a great deal to Pub Charity for our survival. Without their support our members would be up for some pretty heavy costs, which in many instances can be a determining factor as to whether or not, young family's can afford to have a family member committed to a season of cricket.
As an independent stand alone single team club our survival from year to year is tenuous to say the least. Unlike the bigger established Tauranga clubs, The Hoppers do not have a junior program and we are not a catchment club for the school leavers and new arrivals into the Tauranga area.
The Future.....who knows? We will continue for another 36 years, as we have for the past 36 years, with new friends, second and third generation Hoppers coming through and the open door policy we have to encourage new boys. Girls, men and women to be a part of an organisation that, competes hard but honestly and with the utmost passion and respect for this amazing game.
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