An attractive, shy 16 year old girl from the country district of Whakapara (about 14 miles north of Whangarei) last month became the first Maori to represent New Zealand at table tennis.
She was Neti Davis, the New Zealand junior champion, who played in the test series against the touring Japanese world champions, Misses Kimiyo Matsuzaki and Kazuko Yamaizumi.
Neti, who is a prefect at the Hukerenui District High School, clinched her place in the New Zealand team with good performances in the national trials at Lower Hutt.
Although already the holder of many national titles, Neti seems destined for even greater honours.
It seems certain that she will be New Zealand champion within the next few years.
She created a great impression when she appeared against the Japanese players in their opening match of the tour at Whangarei.
Her one big weakness at present is her slowness around the table. She has well nigh perfect attacking and defending strokes on both forehand and backhand wings.
She owes her successes to the keenness and ability of her grandfather-coach, Mr Lou Davis.
To date she has played in three national championships and on the last two occasions, mainly because of her successes, Northland has won the Arthur Meachen Memorial Cup for the association winning the most events.
Every time she has given the tournament officials constant headaches. By competing and winning through to the latter stages of under 16, under 18 and open events she caused many hold-ups.
At her first appearance in Lower Hutt in 1957 she won the New Zealand under 16 singles and the under 16 doubles. Although only 13, she still managed to reach the final of the open mixed doubles.
At Wellington in 1958 she took the under 18 and under 16 singles, the under 18 doubles and the open mixed doubles. Last year at Auckland she won the open mixed doubles again and retained both the junior singles titles as well as winning the under 16 girls' doubles.
Her play was of such a high standard during the season—she also won the Auckland, Waikato, North Shore and Northland open singles titles—that she was ranked No. 3 on the national ranking list at the end of the year.
No mention of Neti's successes can be made without reference to 76-year-old Lou Davis, her grandfather and mentor.
Mr Lou Davis is well known throughout the country as a champion for youth and Maoris in sport and for the well-being of the Maori race.
He still plays table tennis himself.
He is a life member of the Whangarei Table Tennis Association, the Whangarei Rugby Union and the Mid-Northern Lawn Tennis Association.
Next year he will be elected a life member of the Northland Table Tennis Association.
He has been associated with Maori football perhaps longer than anybody in New Zealand—since 1904 in fact.
That year he organised a team from St Stephens College and Three Kings to beat the Auckland B representatives.
Lou was playing for Parnell (“anywhere from five-eighths to fullback”) at the time. He had gone to Auckland to serve his apprenticeship as a car painter and to learn to play rugby.
Born at Taumarere (near Kawakawa), the son of Mr and Mrs Henare Davis (his mother was Ngarui Reweti), young Lou naturally trekked back to Northland after his sojourn in the city.
He started his real and lasting association with Northland rugby in 1912, the year he organised the first Northland Maori side.
He has been connected with the Whangarei union since those days and with the North Auckland Rugby Union since its formation more than 30 years ago.
He has been a Tai Tokerau selector since 1929. Nowadays he is as vitally interested and as active as ever in rugby matters, particularly where they pertain to Maoris.
Standing on his whakapara farm is a small galvanised iron shed which contains a table tennis outfit.
This is where he has coached his grandchildren and other Maori youngsters in the district in the delicate art of smiting the little celluloid ball.
Out of that tumbledown shed and the Lou Davis T.T. school have come the winners of countless major titles.
His son Johnny was several times Northland champion and Johnny's wife was also Northland champion a number of times. she also held the Northland tennis title.
All of their children—Neti, Mary Anne, Thelma
and Lou junior—have won table tennis championships.
When he returned to England after conducting a coaching tour in New Zealand, Ken Stanley wrote in the English Table Tennis Association magazine of “an elderly Maori who walked 24 miles on a number of occasions to watch and hear me coach.”
That was Lou Davis.
Neti is now proving just how valuable her grandfather's efforts have been.
Lou also taught his grandchildren to play tennis. He laid down a grass court and proceeded to coach. His grandchildren have won a heap of tennis titles.
He has assisted in the running of practically all of Northland's junior tennis tournaments.
Lou is vitally interested in the welfare of the Maori people (“my people”) and they put their whole trust in this quiet man.
It is most fitting that New Zealand's first Maori table tennis representative should be his granddaughter.
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