There was plenty of aroha in the wharenui at Maungatautari Marae last week, as iwi, whānau, friends, members of the Waikato squash community, council representatives and invited guests gathered for a pōwhiri in honour of Cambridge squash icon Joelle King.
Pōwhiri MC Rāhui Papa was quick to recognise Joelle’s local Ngāti Koroki Kahukura whakapapa, while acknowledging her strong links to Ngāti Porou. “Whakapapa links are all around you…we’re going to claim you today,” he said.
First to speak was Denise Ferguson, a life-member of the Leamington Squash Club, who had fond memories of Joelle as a child, remembering her as “a little girl with a racquet bigger than her”, hitting the ball better than many of the players on court.
Barry Kavanaugh from the Hamilton Squash and Tennis Club took to the microphone and told the crowd that Joelle is responsible for bringing joy to the club with her success. “We celebrate as New Zealanders, but when those athletes are family or friends, it makes it so much more exciting. The squash community is a family, and you epitomise that more than anyone else,” he said.
Former Cambridge Racquets Club manager Claire Martin also spoke, recognising Joelle’s generosity of spirit and praising her for the “performance of her life” at the Commonwealth Games, where she won gold in the women’s singles and women’s doubles, and bronze in the mixed doubles.
“You don’t have to wait until This is Your Life (TV programme) to celebrate someone,” Rāhui said, after an address from Susan Peters on behalf of Hamilton Māori Squash.
Next up was Joelle’s former coach, Joanne Williams, who said she knew from the outset that Joelle had a special talent. “You hit the ball harder than any 11 or 12-year-old I have ever seen,” she said.
Joanne also paid tribute to Joelle’s positive friendly outlook on life and her ability to communicate with people of all ages. She also praised her willingness to mentor younger players, laughingly adding that Joelle could show the kids how to hold a racquet properly and they would get it, even though Joanne had been telling them the same thing for a year.
Finally, it was time for the gifting of a taonga by Mayor Jim Mylchreest and Bart Herangi, the man who named Joelle, who presented her with an Oamaru stone sculpture by Brett Keno. The taonga is a koru, which is the symbol of creation.
Joelle, who had arrived back from a tournament in Dubai two days earlier, said it was a special evening to welcome her home. “Sometimes you go to events where you don’t ‘know people in the room, but everyone in the room had a story to tell,” she said afterwards, adding that it was great to see the excitement people had in getting to hold her Commonwealth Games medals. “It was so beautiful, I was pretty blown away.”