More than 11,500 intermediate-aged athletes will hit Tauranga in September as Anchor AIMS Games entries went on another record-breaking rampage this week.
The 16th edition of the week-long tournament has seen 361 schools register, a sharp jump from last year's record 320, with more than 50 of those entries from first-time schools.
After several comparatively flat years, rugby entries have exploded this year with the introduction of a mixed QuickRip division, while the number of hockey teams has also jumped from 92 teams last year to 115 this year.
"While the overall numbers are quite simply staggering, it's the dramatic surge in the mixed, non-traditional codes that's really exciting for us," AIMS tournament director Vicki Semple explained. "Introducing divisions like QuickRip, six-aside hockey and three-on-three basketball has made a massive difference to the smaller schools that don't have the numbers to form full single-sex teams. It means they too get to experience all the incredible things a week-long tournament with their mates can provide. It also means the Anchor AIMS Games is even more inclusive, more accessible and is well on its way to becoming an exemplar event on the New Zealand sporting landscape."
In its first year, Quick Rip - the non-contact, New Zealand Rugby-supported version of Rippa Rugby - has drawn an impressive 30 teams from all over the North Island, while the 57 boys' and 16 girls' sevens teams are also tournament records. It means total rugby-playing numbers have nearly doubled, from 684 players last year to 1176 players this year.
Hockey's continued rise in popularity is evident, with the six-aside competition exploding from 56 teams last year to 85 teams this year, following the introduction of boys' and girls' six-aside divisions. With another 31 11-aside teams, hockey's 116 teams overall makes it one of the biggest sports, joining netball (126 teams), football and futsal (162 teams in both codes) and basketball (108 teams).
This year's introduction of canoe sprint alongside canoe slalom (78 competitors) and mountain biking (199 riders) has also been wildly successful. Golf numbers have grown with a nine-hole division for the first time, while rock climbing has lifted to 161 athletes after a riveting debut in 2018.
Tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis will have their most athletes ever, as will swimming, water polo and sailing. The latter has introduced the Bic class to the existing Optimist class, with entries jumping from 80 sailors to 99 as a result.
Para-athletes will again be well represented in cross-country, swimming and table tennis, while 18 Pacific Island schools - from Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands - will compete in rugby sevens, badminton and swimming.