By Tim Murphy, Newsroom co-editor
When Christchurch Boys' High School crossed the line to win their first Maadi Cup national title, cox Timmy Heritage leapt out of his seat in the wobbly, skinny boat, arms aloft at a triumph not only over arch rivals Christ's College, but over bigotry and homophobia.
The coxswain was soon joined by at least one of the eight rowers in front of him, standing vertical in the horizontal jet that they had just propelled down Lake Karapiro to a historic victory.
Each of the eight rowers had taped their oars with 'rainbow' tape, and had successfully messaged all seven other crews competing in the final to do likewise, in a statement against homophobic bullying that Heritage had endured earlier this season.
Christchurch Boys' eight had beaten the reigning Aon Maadi Cup holders, Christ's, at the South Island champs at Lake Ruataniwha, Twizel, and there were persistent suggestions in the school's rowing community that anti-gay sledging had occurred around that time, among other instances beyond rowing.
The CBHS crew had Heritage's back - and not only inspired the rainbow oars by all eight Maadi Cup crews late on Saturday, but rowed their boat down the Karapiro 2km course in a time of 5.54.31s, just outside the record this century, set by Hamilton Boys' High at 5.53.17 in 2005.
Christ's, the runners-up at Ruataniwha, pushed them to the wire, posting 5.55.71s for second as pupils from both schools crowded into the lake waters screaming to their teams and at each other from a safe distance.
This Maadi, however, was owned by the blue-and-blacks of Christchurch Boys'. They won the big one. They won the crowd's hearts. They won the most gold medals at the regatta, with eight to Hamilton Boys' six. And they won the prize for champion school. They won the Springbok Shield for the under 18-4, the penultimate event on day one of the finals. As well, one of the Maadi winning boys, Scott Shackleton, took home four gold medals. One of his under-17 year crew mates, Liam Behrnes, won three.
Ominously, Christchurch also won the boys' under 17-8, again from Christ's, in a lightning fast time of 5.50s on Friday morning - meaning next year, the Christchurch Boys' newly-engraved name on the Maadi Cup could be in for a repeat.
But, for now, this under 18-8 takes the double plaudits of massive achievers in sport - and for taking a stand that showed personal and social integrity.
Yesterday, former New Zealand champion sculler Robbie Manson, who came out as gay five years ago, posted high praise on Instagram for the Christchurch Boys' decision to row with rainbow tape around the oar handles - and for the other crews, including Christ's, for joining in.
"Christchurch Boys put rainbow tape on their blades to support coxswain [Heritage] who was bullied earlier in the season for being gay. An awesome way to show solidarity and celebrate diversity which applies to not only the LGBTQ+ community but people of all races, religions and cultures. Particularly fitting in the wake of the recent tragedy in Christchurch," Manson wrote in a post liked by thousands, including young rowers.
"I'm so proud of Timmy and the Chch Boys team for showing the kind of courage and leadership to create this change that is making everyone feel like they are welcome and they belong."
For Heritage, the win wasn't one that came easily. It was a battle that would have any coxswain using every bit of their rowing wits to outpoint the challenging boat. Christchurch Boys made their move at the halfway mark, when the two garden city schools had almost shaken clear of North Island heavyweight Hamilton Boys High and Auckland Grammar.
From there, Christchurch Boys' and Christ's slugged it out, stroke for stroke, as their fans splashed and chanted up a storm by the finish line.
When Christchurch Boys crossed - so strong and so good it seemed incredible this proud school had not previously taken the Maadi Cup - Heritage sprung out of his seat like no cox before him at this regatta. Arms aloft. Rainbow-coloured oars ahead of him in the hands of eight blue-and black mates.
Those boys are Shackleton, Tom Fraser, Cameron Long, Ethan Alderlieste, Cameron Henderson, Angus Templeton, James Glover and Ben Brown.
Christchurch Boys' and Christ's left Auckland Grammar eight seconds back, who pipped Hamilton Boys for bronze.
In the regatta as a whole, the South Island dominated the boys events, with Otago Boys' winning the under 18-double. The top single sculler in the under 18s was Jason Nel of St Peter's Cambridge. Hamilton Boys' had a strong regatta at the junior level, winning the under 15-8, under 15-four and octuple, and the under 18 Novice-8 as well as the under 17-4.
Hamilton, who have forever been the mightiest North Island boys school, could finish just fourth in the Maadi Cup, fourth in the Springbok Shield for the under-18 four, third in the under-17 8 and second in the under-16 8 - events they had always been strong in.
- This article was first published on Newsroom.