Hundreds of kids flock to the Valley for state hockey
THIS is it - the culmination of years of planning, months of exciting build-up and a lot of hard work in at least the last week.
One of the biggest state competitions is well under way at Grafton's hockey fields, with most of the best under-13 boys teams in the state battling it out to determine who will be named the best in their age group.
In all, there are 27 teams from 20 associations from across the state, including three Sydney teams, two each from Newcastle and Central Coast, and from as far away as Dubbo, Parkes and the Southern Highlands.
But if you strip those impressive figures away and take a quick look at the human element, it equates to hundreds of enthusiastic, exciting youngsters spending a weekend in Grafton playing a sport they love.
And for Grafton Hockey Association administrator Joel Ward, the early mornings and late nights he had in the lead-up to Friday's opening day of competition is worth every second.
"I have to give props to at least the last 12 years of work people in Grafton have put towards making this facility what it is," Ward said.
"It is quite a big competition.
"We've been well supported by council and we have full rosters of volunteers ready for the weekend."
Grafton, and by extension the Clarence Valley, was lucky to be awarded such a prestigious event.
In economic terms, the U13 Boys Field State Championship is considered to be one of the best competitions an association can host.
That's because it not only attracts the players from each team, but their parents and siblings as well.
It brings families to the region, who then spend a weekend in the local area and inject thousands of dollars into the local economy.
This competition is usually held in the second week of July during the school holidays, but a clash with the Racing Carnival left Hockey NSW with an important decision.
Would it shift the competition to a different week to allow Grafton to remain as host, or would they opt for another region to keep the traditional timeslot?
To the Clarence Valley's benefit, they agreed to shift the date.
"It does mean we're down a bit on a few teams," Ward said.
"They usually get low 30s but it's also usually held during the school holidays. It is around what we expected, though.
"We're very lucky to be able to host and hopefully will put on a few days of quality competition."
Space constraints and a lack of appropriate fields rules the open men's competitions out of GHA's immediate future but Ward said they were happy to concentrate their efforts on juniors.
Hockey NSW allocate championships every three years, meaning associations will put together hosting bids later this year.
GHA will gun for both the U13 and U15 championships, but their chances will again depend on the efforts of their application.
"The 13s and 15s are the best to host as we pick up those families," Ward said.
"From that point of view there's definitely more people as the players tend to travel with their parents and bring their siblings with them.
"That probably suits Grafton as well being a more relaxed place."
As many benefits as there are for the region, Ward was quick to point that none of it could be possible without the volunteers and help from council.
He said council had done extra work on the grass fields and removed concrete chairs to prevent injuries, and had cut back the trees to improve access on the road into the complex.
"The BBQ roster is purely volunteers and we have a few of the men's teams rostered on for today," Ward said.
"The canteen is run purely by the women's teams who miss out on their round because of the competition.
"Once this is over, we've got the senior men's competition games on Sunday night. The volunteers will probably end up finishing about 3.30pm and be back ready to go at 5pm."