23rd May 2022

Prior to 2012, no student from Tokoroa High School’s first XIII Rugby League team had gone on to tertiary education. Principal William Ford and daughter Tairi decided to prioritise their efforts in changing this, initiating the SUP3 (Supported academic learning) programme, which focused on creating a pathway for students to transition into education past high school. Since then, multiple rugby league starlets have gone on to university and tertiary courses and in recent years Ford and his staff have opened the programme up to the broader year 13 cohort.

After working with the Warriors, Tairi Ford returned to Tokoroa in 2018 to upstart the SUP3 programme, which focuses on three specialised subjects that would grant students university entrance (UE). Students had three domain classes with specialist teachers, where students could receive their UE and NCEA level 13 qualifications while being managed by Ford.

Tairi has been directing the programme for multiple years and has watched it grow from 14 young rugby league players to over 70 year 13 students.

“We used Rugby League as the hook. We knew our rangatahi loved the game, so we coupled their education directly to their ability to play for the school team.” Ford said.

“My father birthed the programme”, Tairi added, talking about Principal William Ford. “He wanted to invest more into the care and wellness of our young people.”

“Many of our boys have not experienced much outside of Tokoroa, and even less have experienced a higher form of education. So, we wanted to give our youth the best chance to do that.”

Former students of Tokoroa High School have gone on to study Medical Science at Otago, Law at Waikato University, and the fullback of the 2016 Tokoroa side has also returned, working as a physiotherapist in the blue-collar town.

Tokoroa High School Principal and former Kiwi’s trainer William Ford had this to say.

“Rugby league is a big part of the community here in Tokoroa. Most of our rangatahi are connected to either the Pacific Sharks or Forestland Falcon’s rugby league clubs which are influential hubs in our region.”

“As a school, we wanted to emphasise the importance of tertiary education and showcase there is more to life than just the labour than just the mill. Rugby League gave us an avenue to do that.”