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Katie Perkins: White Fern with a heart of gold

The Police Association Sportsperson of the Year 2019 talks to Ellen Brook.

Constable Katie Perkins combines being a White Fern with her work as a youth engagement officer in South Auckland, a part of Auckland she has always supported and advocated for.

Growing up on the North Shore in Auckland, Katie Perkins knew how much she loved sport, particularly cricket.

Batting, bowling and fielding on a backyard pitch with family and friends were highlights of her childhood.

She recalls, however, being aware that she wasn’t the most naturally gifted of athletes.

Later she realised that the key to her success had been that she had two parents who made sacrifices to provide opportunities for her.

“Because of that support, I was able to achieve. What bothered me was that I would often see Māori and Pacific kids who were way more athletic and talented than me and they weren’t getting into the same rep teams that I was.”

That frustration set Katie on a path of working towards bringing opportunities to some of the most deprived areas of Auckland.

She studied sport and recreation and business at AUT, but by the time she finished her studies she had already decided her future lay in policing. When she joined in 2013, she also knew she wanted to work and live in South Auckland.

The community networking involved in her youth engagement officer role led her to connect with the area’s Pātaka Kai movement – setting up free community food pantries in suburban streets. Katie was quickly on board and has a Pātaka Kai outside her home in Manurewa, for which she collects donations.

When she joined Police, Katie was already playing for the White Ferns and, thanks to FEO arrangements, was able to continue with those commitments.

She’d had a “magnificent” 2011-12 summer with the Auckland Hearts, according to New Zealand Cricket, playing a key role in their one-day competition success and going on to be a significant senior player helping the Auckland Hearts win numerous titles since.

Called up for national duties in 2012, she travelled with the White Ferns to Australia for the Twenty20 and Rose Bowl games, scoring 31 on debut. In the West Indies home series (2013-14), she averaged close to 40 and whacked an unbeaten 45 from 34 deliveries in the second One Day International.

In 2017, a broken right thumb, suffered while going for a catch, which required surgery, put her out of action for practically the rest of the season and she was dropped from the White Ferns for the next 13 months.

When the Auckland Hearts 2018-19 season came around, Katie averaged 73 with the bat during the one-day competition and was reselected for the 2019 home summer ODIs against India and Australia. In Australia, she averaged 33.7 in the Rose Bowl series, which the White Ferns lost 3-0.

In the second round of the 2019-20 Auckland Hearts’ one-day season, Katie injured herself again, this time breaking the base of the pinky finger on her left hand while diving for a catch (“which I made!”) and then dislocating her right pinky finger diving to stop a ball making four. After X-rays showed that surgery wasn’t required, she played on for the rest of the season, managing the injuries with various small casts and strapping tape.

After the first half of the national one-day competition, she averaged 88.7 with the bat contributing to Hearts sitting at the top of the table. At the end of the 2019-20 Super Smash T20, she was the competition’s top run scorer with 485 runs from 12 innings at an average of 69.3.

A nomination for the Police Association Sportsperson of the Year 2019 award was a given.

She was also selected for the White Ferns ODI and T20 series against South Africa and the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia.

Katie recalls a special moment during a World Cup game. She was running the drinks that day, with her family watching the action on TV at home. It was the same day that her grandfather, who’d had a huge influence on her cricketing career, would have turned 100. “Even though I wasn’t playing that day, I know how proud he would have been,” she says.

At home, the 31-year-old represents the Cornwall Cricket Club when she is available.

In tandem with her growing cricket career, which has been well supported by Police, Katie was working with the Randwick Park Neighbourhood Policing Team and it was during that time that she met a young person who, she says, changed her life.

Natasha (not her real name), a 13-year-old Māori-Cook Island girl, was already in the youth justice system and on bail for a serious aggravated robbery charge. Katie  had a good feeling about this kid who “had a real sparkle in her eye”.

“Because I was into sport, I asked her if she liked sport. She said she’d played rugby and netball, but always got kicked off the team, usually for violent behaviour. I said, ‘Sounds like you would be good at boxing’.

“She lit up at that. I found a gym close by that was prepared to work with her.”

Katie would pick Natasha up in the patrol car. “She hated police, but when I arrived to pick her up for boxing, she would run to the car.”

It was a “solid connection” that lasted for two years. “I walked alongside her on her youth justice journey.”

During that time, Katie says, she saw “massive failings” in the adults around Natasha. “It wasn’t just her parents, but also government agencies. She would toe the line and then the adults would stuff up. It was a massive lesson for me about how broken and under-resourced our social systems are.”

It’s fair to say that right now, Natasha’s life is “not a bed of roses”. The best Katie can say, as a measure of success, is that her sparkly girl “is still alive”.

For Katie’s part, though, she credits Natasha with changing her life for the better as the catalyst for her current youth engagement role with Police. It’s a job she loves and, with 20 hours a week FEO over three days a week, it’s one she can combine with her cricketing career.

At the moment, it’s the perfect balance. “For some people that might not be enough cricket, but I learnt the hard way,” she says.

When Katie was at university, she put all her extra time into improving her game, but all that effort seemed to be having the opposite effect. “I was trying too hard and putting too much expectation and pressure on myself. All my self-worth was tied up with cricket, but it wasn’t working.”

At 22 years old, she was ready to give up on her White Ferns dream.

It took time spent at a Christian sports camp, Athletes in Action, for Katie to discover that her own value was not all about sport. “I had to learn to love who I was, whether or not I was playing sport.”

Letting go was hard, she says, but, quite quickly, as she became more relaxed, she found she played with more freedom and less anxiety. At 23, she made her White Ferns debut.

Being nominated for the Police Association Sportsperson of the Year was “lovely”, she says, although she had “zero expectations”.

When President Chris Cahill rang to say she was the 2019 winner, she thought he was joking. “But I’m particularly honoured and privileged to be among the awesome women who have won it before.”

The future is bright for this thoughtful, caring and talented woman and she’s looking forward to more cricket competition opportunities and to advocating for and supporting Māori in South Auckland.

Katie is the kaitiaki for a Pātaka Kai (community pantry) that she set up outside her home.

Police Association Sportsperson of the Year Award

Since 2002, the Police Association has sponsored the Police Sportsperson of the Year Award, organised by Police Sport, which recognises outstanding national sporting excellence by members of Police.

Previous recipients include:
Selica Winiata, Black Fern (twice); Fiao’o Fa’amausili, Black Fern (three times); Rachel Clarke, surf skier (twice); Melissa Mae Ruru, NZ volleyballer; Sian Law, Commonwealth Games wrestler; Jeff McGrath, ironman/triathlete; Grainne Scott, MVP NZ lacrosse team and captain of the Canterbury Women’s Ice Hockey Team; Michelle Nunn, captain of the NZ Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, the Wheel Ferns; Tracey Ball, Cowboy Action Shooting World Champion; Shane Bond, NZ Black Cap; Steve Westlake and Matt Goodman, Atlantic rowers; Jenny-May Coffin, Silver Fern; Murray Pierce, John Gallagher and Blair Larsen, All Blacks; Sam Stewart, rugby league; Roger Gray, All White; Shane Collins, Scott Anderson and Karen Smith, hockey internationals; Sarah Illingworth, cricket; Phil Skoglund, lawn bowls; Steve Farrell, triathlete; Andrew Collin, athlete; Karen Vaughan, martial artist.

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