MODERN DAY WARRIORS
THE PIONEER Sports Club is as Maori as they come.
That was something that stuck out like a bloke in a pink blazer at Eden Park when this scribe visited its Colombo Road base on the east side of Masterton to pick the brains of club president Dan Te Tau, secretary Mike Kawana and club captain Blue Hansen.
They inform me that netball and darts also operate under the Pioneer banner. Many of the netballers are married to the rugby players. The reigning men’s Australasian darts champion can also be seen honing his technique in the clubhouse.
This is Pioneer’s fourth postal address. Its last humble abode was at Memorial Park, the home of the Wairarapa Bush Heartland Championship side. Time was also spent at Herbert Street and on the Te Ore Ore marae.
I’m told the latter is the centrepoint of all things Maori in the region and that it was here that the club was born in 1894. Playing records from its early years have been well preserved and provide an ideal historical tapestry.
The club changed its name from Te Ore Ore to Pioneer in 1922 as a mark of respect to the Pioneer Maori Battalion which fought during World War I. Many of those soldiers who bore arms were from its neck of the woods.
“This is the resident Maori club of the Wairarapa. Most of the current players today can trace their roots right back to those founding members,” says Te Tau, who is affectionately known as ‘Uncle Dan’.
Business off the park is conducted in a marae-like manner. Protocol is observed and a haka performed, while Pioneer is renowned for its post-game hangi.
Don’t be surprised to hear a stirring rendition of Pioneer’s song, Keep on Rucking, being sung by members of the Senior A and reserve sides before they chow down on their kai. Kawana, who penned the lyrics to that anthem, is usually strumming away on his guitar when the players are getting their song on.
That ambience makes for a welcoming atmosphere in the clubhouse. ‘Come one, come all’ is Pioneer’s motto.
“When we have visitors from out of town, we make sure we do things right as far as giving them a proper welcome,” says Kawana.
“Most visitors go away from here knowing they have been taken care of. They go away from here having enjoyed their experience and looking forward to coming back.”
Pioneer also looks after its own members. Many are from low socio-economic backgrounds and greatly appreciate any assistance they receive. Te Tau is a mechanic and always gives club members a discount at his garage whenever their vehicles are in need of a tune-up. The club has also helped sponsor its members for overseas sporting trips.
Pioneer claims that it was the first ever rugby club in New Zealand to appoint a female president, with Hinerau Mason serving one year in the role in 1986. Pioneer by name, pioneers by nature, it seems.
It would also be one of the few clubs to take a provincial union to the High Court after claiming that rule tinkering from Wairarapa Bush’s officialdom prevented it from recording what would have been rare back-to-back championship successes across all divisions in the 1990s.
But Pioneer always prefers to let its actions, rather than its legal counsel, do the talking during the season. It plays a ruck-and-run style game; a game where the ball is liberally thrown around in a carefree manner. It is Maori flair at its finest. That usually keeps the masses who occupy the sideline real estate for home games on Saturday entertained.
“We’re always there or thereabouts. We have had trouble in recent years stepping up when it comes to that final hurdle, but when we lose, we only just lose,” says Te Tau.
As far as special occasions go, they don’t come much bigger than Old Timers Day. That draws many a life member out of the woodwork, as it’s usually held when Pioneer tangos with its ‘cousins’ from Martinborough. The past v present and married v singles encounters at the end of the season used to generate a bit of interest, too.
The junior section is strong at Pioneer. So strong that some of its midget teams are capable of scoring at a clip that often results in three figures being posted on the scoreboard.
It all bodes well for Pioneer as it looks to blood warriors of the future who will defend its rugby pa.
AS GOOD as winning a hat-trick of Wairarapa Bush Senior A banners was during a period of rude good health in the 1990s, it was the cementing of Pioneer’s top-flight status in 1983 that was the making of the club.
It was a moment when the club came of age; a moment where it grew up.
“Going from senior seconds to Senior A was a big step for us,” remembers club president Dan Te Tau.
Indeed it was. To understand why, you need to understand Pioneer’s history.
It had spent much of its existence languishing in the second division up until that point. Top-flight promotion was briefly secured in 1975, but Pioneer quickly tumbled down to its familiar lowly surrounds the following year.
Club secretary Mike Kawana feels that beating Marist in the promotion-relegation game in 1983 and maintaining its place in the premier competition was ultimately the catalyst that led to Pioneer annexing the Senior A title in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
“It was kind of like growing up for us. We were this second division team and when we got up and then won it, people started to look at us differently,” he says.
“It lifted a lot of people’s sprits and drew a lot more people to the club. We have grown from there.”
PIONEER PRESIDENT Dan Te Tau, secretary Mike Kawana and club captain Blue Hansen (all pictured above) put their brains together, but after much deliberation felt it was unfair to single out one or two people.
Instead the trio has paid homage to every person who has contributed to the club in some shape or form since its infancy. These folk, they feel, are all deserving of ‘club legend’ status.
That’s not to say that Pioneer hasn’t had members who haven’t given yeoman service and a bit of themselves to the club since then.
Far from it. The likes of Hansen, Mick Peachey, Selina Duffy, ‘Snow’ Winder and Mike Harmon have all made a long-lasting impression.
But to hold them up on a pedestal, although deserving, would not do justice to the other volunteers who have done their bit over the years.
“There have been so many people involved in our club that have done so much that it would be hard to single any one person out,” says Kawana. “Everyone who has contributed has helped make the club what it is today.”
It is perhaps a line in the club’s haka – which translated in English means ‘My bravery isn’t mine alone’ – that sums up perfectly just how important each and every player, coach, administrator and life member at Pioneer is.« Back to Club of the Week
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