Whakatane touch champs raise funds for Whakaari victims

By Kereama Wright

Two-time Whakatāne touch tournament champions Wairere have raffled off their playing strip to help raise money for whānau affected by last month's Whakaari White Island eruption. 

In the build-up to the Hamilton-based side's defence of the Whakatāne open men's title, Wairere raffled off all 16 playing singlets to whānau and friends.

Player-coach Mite Graham says while the majority of the team come from Hamilton and Manawatu they were all affected by the tragedy. 

"Visitors were affected, Australians too, the entire country mourned. It's the least we can do to help them," Graham says.

At 2.11pm on December 9, Whakaari threw hot steam, rocks and ash into the air. 47 people were on or near the island.

Nineteen people were killed, including Whakatāne local Hayden Marshal-Inman, 40, and Australian teen Winona Jane Langford, who are missing and presumed dead. A further 28 people suffered injuries, many with severe burns.

Māori All Black and Blues first-five Otere Black grew up in Whakatāne. He recalls the shock he felt when he found out about the eruption. 

"I was at training when I heard, I didn't think much of it until I checked my phone and realised how serious it was," Black says. 

"My partner and her mother were on Whakaari just two weeks prior to the eruption, so it was really close to home. We've been coming to this tournament for a long time now, Whakatāne looks after us well. So we thought raffling our singlets is the least we could do to help the whānau." 

The team raised just under $2,000. All funds will be donated to a Whakaari fund.

"It may not be much but it comes from a place of love for those who are burdened," Black says.