In this column we profile the administrators and coaches who keep the club running. For our first instalment, we decided to go straight to the top and interview the club president Michael Wray, and we managed to catch him in an expansive mood.
When did you join Scottish? Since joining, what administrative roles have you held?
I joined Scottish in 2009. I ran one race in the yellow singlet, picked a Wellington Centre bronze medal and took the rest of the year off with an injury, so I didn’t become a “proper” member until the start of the 2010 season. Since then there have been a number of roles.
Sharon and I jointly won the club personality of the year award in 2011 and I recklessly threw away any popularity that award conferred by immediately taking on the mantle of most hated person in the club, the job where only one person likes you at any one time – club handicapper. You don’t get nearly as many bribes as one might think! From 2017, this role has been taken on by James Turner.
I took over the role of coordinating the pack leaders for club runs in 2013. Corralling pack leaders is a job that seems to benefit from a fresh approach every few years and I was glad to hand over to Stu Beresford this year.
Also in 2013, I became the M40 section captain, though this morphed into coordinating the masters men for all three sections (40/50/60+). When James Turner entered the M50s, he took up their reins and with Paul Rodway stepping up for the M60s, I was able to step back from those sections. Earlier this year I turned 50 so despite enjoying this role more than most, I didn’t think it right for me to continue as M40 captain. It took a while to persuade a current M40 to take on the job but Simon Keller has accepted the role now.
In 2014, Grant needed to give up editorship of On the Run, ostensibly to focus on the Centenary book and I was given the role. This was a challenge as many of the pool of contributors felt tapped out and I ended up writing most of my last issue in charge (the December 2015 edition) myself. After getting very little response in my request for contributions in 2016, OtR was given a temporary hiatus while the Management Committee considered options.
I first joined the management committee in 2014, though a full-time work role in Auckland soon followed and led me to step down for the second half of the year. When the project concluded, I came back on to the committee in 2015.
The administration of the Athletics NZ membership system was a role I took on in 2015. We are planning to hand this role on too, with two volunteers waiting in the wings. However, Athletics New Zealand rolled out a new version this season. The training that was provided for version two of Clubnet assumed you knew version one and in addition it has had teething issues with a few bugs. Until it has settled down, I will continue to look after membership but the intention is to handover the job by the end of the season.
You’ve recently become club president. What does that role involve?
I could regurgitate the official job description (!) but perhaps I should spare you the bureaucratic response. In more everyday terms, I see it as about listening to the management committee, to members, to yourself and looking for opportunities to improve conditions for the club. There’s a lot that is routine but the committee has some good people whose ideas may need a sounding board, a club-wide perspective (possibly wider – some things are not just about the club) or to be empowered to act.
What do you most like about being club president?
It’s possibly a little soon to answer this one. Ultimately, I like being in a position where I can contribute to the everyday terms I describe above. I also enjoy being able to learn more about the workings of the sport to which I’ve devoted my leisure time.
And what do you like least?
Again, it’s a bit early to answer that. I imagine something will emerge, such as dealing with the parameters within which we, as a member club of ANZ, have to operate – but the flipside of that is it is up to us to challenge ANZ to provide a framework that allows us and our rival clubs to have an opportunity to flourish.
In your view, what are the main challenges presently faced by the club?
This is an easy one. It’s a challenge to all athletics clubs and to sports clubs in general. The club-subscription model is one that the public mindset has moved on from, with a “pay to play” philosophy becoming common.
It’s a challenge being increasingly faced in team sports from Twilight and Indoor Leagues but it is particularly relevant to individual sports, such as athletics, in which city events provide road racing, xterra events provide off-road running races and parkruns can provide a club atmosphere. We need to engage with those “rival” events, rather than butt heads with them. If we can build partnerships, they can become a pathway to providing lasting members instead of an event to which we lose members.
What do you hope to contribute as club president, and what do you hope to achieve?
With the exception of the elite end of the club, where motivation to join is in part to gain access to official championships, a club’s unique selling point is not what it was 30 years ago; it is no longer our event syllabus that sells membership. What we need to provide is the next level of camaraderie that city/xterra/parkrun events don’t provide.
People generally join for reasons like wanting to improve their running and walking; beyond that they will remain members if we make them feel like family. That’s our job – not just the management committee but of all members. To promote the sense of belonging and enjoyment. Any club that focuses solely on its high performers will lose the bottom layers of its pyramid and find itself unable to meet the needs of its high performers. We need to have our members know the club is there for all of them, to help them enjoy their sport and to celebrate their personal achievements.
While our big annual goal is to win the National Road Relays, if I had to choose I would rather have a club with 300 happy members and no Road Relay medals than a club half that size but who has won Top Club at Road Relays. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose – I think we can have both.
And as an aside, I think that having the club’s top performers “giving back” and leading by example, engaging with every other club member as equals, participating in our club events, not just saving their appearances for the headline races, helps. Everyone feels great when you get cheered on by a current Olympian!
You’ve held, and continue to hold, several other admin roles outside the club. You’ve also trained to be an official. Can you tell us about those roles, and about the other things you’ve done to contribute to the sport?
Since joining the club, I’ve gradually given up the various roles in other sectors to devote more energy to athletics. I used to be one of the organisers of Summer League (a very successful Wellington football competition, which even had an ex-All White grace our pitch!) and have held numerous roles in the theatre industry.
In athletics, I am a registered coach with Athletics NZ and completed the Run component of the IAAF Level 2 Coaching Course. I have picked up a C grade level qualification for track and field in the Run discipline, something I did to stay involved with track and field while injured. I completed most of the practical experience required to sit the B grade exam but unfortunately, or fortunately, I returned to competition and have not had much chance to officiate since. One thing I learned is that officials perform a role that is much more physical than it looks and it would be difficult to both officiate and compete at the same track meet unless running in the first race.
I was elected to the Board of Athletics Wellington about a year ago and I also sit on the Athletics Wellington sub-committees for both Senior Track & Field and Road/Cross Country. I have been President of Wellington Masters Athletics since 2013 and on the Board of New Zealand Masters Athletics for two years.
Among the Scottish Men’s M40s team, and excluding Grant McLean, who is your greatest role model, and why?
I assume you’re excluding Grant as it’s generally well known that Grant is the reason I chose Scottish when I joined the club!
The M40s team is a varied bunch and it still feels weird to now be looking at them as runners of a completely different grade, not just the five year bandings; I daresay those who started in the sport before becoming a master already know that weird feeling of getting older and moving up to a whole new bracket ahead of a group you’ve always considered team mates.
In my time in the M40s, there are numerous people who stand out for various reasons and I could point to several.
I will make a special mention of Bill Twiss. Bill was the first M40 with whom I clicked and who, along with Greg Mitchell, gave that sense of family to which I referred as important earlier. I shared a room with Bill at the North Island Cross Country Champs in my first year with the club. At the conclusion of the weekend I felt – for the first time – like a real member of Scottish. Bill and I have been good friends ever since.
Overall, for a role model I would have to choose Todd Stevens. He’s a canny, indefatigable racer and he’s been around the club and the sport for decades, accruing much wisdom. It is undeniable that the sport would be much poorer without his contribution.
by Simon Keller