It’s hard to know whether Jacinda Ardern has ever seen a game of ice hockey, let alone hear about its popularity in New Zealand.
Regardless, she’s given Billy Sheard a Prime Minister’s scholarship in the sport thanks to the good old adage of “ask and you shall receive”.
Indeed, Billy might be recognised as pioneer after he tried his luck with the application and was successful.
“My aunty initially told me all about it, and actually told me about it for field hockey,” Billy Sheard.
“But I thought ice hockey is a much better sport for me to do it in so I did my own research and it seemed like they were willing to include minority sports in the application criteria.”
For those unaware, Prime Minister Scholarships are given out by High Performance Sport NZ each year to allow athletes to undertake tertiary study and vocational qualifications while pursuing elite level sport at the same time.
It provides a substantial contribution towards university fees as well as extra costs depending on academic performance.
“I just thought, there’s no harm in trying it, put my name forward and got it so I was pretty stoked.”
Billy currently studies in Dunedin and in his first year of health science, where after a year – he’ll decide which path to take, whether that be physio, sports medicine etc.
At the same time, Billy has come up through the U18 and U20 ice hockey age grades and will be a member of the Dunedin Thunder’s NZIHL roster this year.
He’s hoping that his studies and his hockey might lead him overseas to North America where he can do both at an elite level.
He’s already had a taste of the North when he moved to America at four years of age.
He spent time in Boston where he fell in love with skating on the frozen ponds and supporting the Boston Bruins.
Once he returned home, he jumped straight into playing ice hockey and hasn’t looked back.
Hopefully Billy’s success obtaining a Prime Minister’s scholarship will inspire other youngsters to try and apply, with the hope that the financial barrier to studying and playing hockey is just a little bit easier.
Written By Sam Hewat