Johnny MorrisonAshburton driver Johnny Morrison will be up against some tough opposition in the New Zealand Junior Drivers’ Championship. Photo Tetsuro MitomoHe’s one of the new kids on the block still, but Ashburton junior driver Johnny Morrison is chasing a national title this weekend.

The talented young horseman will line up against 11 of his peers over the course of tonight and then tomorrow in the New Zealand Junior Drivers’ Championships for the best rising talents in harness racing driving from around New Zealand.

With 17 wins next to his name for his career in what is just his second season in the sulky on race day, Morrison is making a pretty good fist of the driving caper – but will head into the series as one of the least experienced and is going up against people who have driven five times as many winners as he has.

But he’s not letting that daunt him.

“You can’t let things like that worry you too much,” he said.

“I’m just really honoured to have been able to qualify to compete in a national championship, it’s going to be an incredible experience to compete against some of the best juniors from around the country in the series.”

The son of well-known Mid Canterbury trainer and saddler Chris Morrison, Johnny is now based in Christchurch and working part-time for strike-rate trainer, Steven McRae of the famous Spreydon Lodge.

He’s mixing his time working for McRae with doing some farrier work around the region for a number of trainers as well as training the odd horse of his own in his spare time.

“It keeps me out of trouble, there’s always something to do.”

Morrison has enjoyed a good season with his 11 wins coming with a couple of weeks remaining before the seasons turn over.

Good mate, and supporter, Warren Stapleton has provided him with four winners this term, while he’s also been able to salute in the colours of two of his other biggest supporters in Michael Heenan and Rex Bennett.

“I’ve been given some great opportunities and wouldn’t be competing in this series without their help.”

The series was due to kick off last night at Forbury Park in Dunedin, but the inclement weather that has caused havoc up the South Island this week saw the meeting postponed and shifted to tomorrow afternoon – so what was to be the start of the competition, is now the finish.

Things will kick off tonight at harness racing HQ at Addington instead.

Morrison has the drive on the Ashburton-trained Bishop Brian in the opening heat of the championship for Dallas Patterson but considered Gunpowder, his second drive tonight, to be his best chance of all.

Tomorrow at Forbury he will drive Caitlin Franco who looks a good each way chance and also Ella Abbe for renowned trotting trainer, Phil Williamson – giving him a good shot at some success.

By Matt Markham © The Ashburton Guardian - 14 July 2017

Josh LoweJosh Lowe. Photo Ashburton GuardianThere’s no rest from basketball for Ashburton College senior player Josh Lowe these holidays.

The 2.03 metre (6 foot 8 inch) student has a two-day training camp in Auckland next week then he’s off to Las Vegas with an Impact Basketball Academy team to play against some of the best high school ballers in the United States.

Lowe, 17, caught the eye of the academy’s top coach in April when he was part of a development team that played in a Florida tournament.

He’s been working on every aspect of his game since and is hoping to ultimately earn a basketball scholarship to an American university. Lowe is a member of the senior boys’ side that plays in the Canterbury Basketball Association’s Thompson Trophy secondary schools’ competition.

He has regularly faced off against New Zealand age-group reps but knows he will need to take his game to another level when he steps off the plane on July 25.

Florida was a learning experience – the Americans played a faster and more physical version of the popular sport and he had to adapt quickly.

He also found himself playing in the unfamiliar position of point guard.

“In the US they double-team you when you bring the ball up, they are a lot more aggressive.”

In Mid Canterbury Lowe has always been the tallest player in the team as he has progressed through school and representative teams over the years and always played at centre or small forward.

So for the past 12 months he has also been working on his ball skills and strength. He puts up at least 100 shots most days and practises on the purpose-built concrete slab outside his home.

The left-hander dribbles the ball, or balls, with both hands, behind him, in front of him, through his legs.

He is also following a special strength and weight-gain programme designed by physical trainer Frank Connelly; since the start of the year he has put on 10kg. Lowe says the Florida trip helped him decide to give basketball a shot and he had no hesitation in saying yes when invited back for the Las Vegas tournament and then to join the academy in Florida in January.

He plans to train there for part of the year, aiming for a scholarship that would kick in when the American school year does in August.

He says good grades at school are also an important consideration for universities so the Year 13 student is also spending part of the holidays immersed in his text books.

Playing basketball while he studies next year would be a dream come true.

By Linda Clarke © The Ashburton Guardian - 12 July 2017

Mitchell FarrMitchell Farr has grown up with the Big Little Theatre Company, and is now preparing for its latest show. Photo Susan SandysBig Little Theatre Company long-time members Mitchell Farr and Elise Heffernan are among actors preparing for the powerful musical Children of Eden opening on Friday.

The pair, aged 16 and 15 respectively, have both been with the company for more than half their young lives – nine years each – and have developed into strong performers along the way.

In the first part of the show, Mitchell will play Cain in Children of Eden, an angry young man who feels he and his family were unjustly banished to the wilderness. He resembles his mother, Eve, to be played by Elise, who was banished forever from the Garden of Eden, because she too wanted to ask questions of life and had a desire for knowledge.

The show’s script is based on the Book of Genesis and depicts human struggle as the characters are torn between life choices.

In the second half of the show, Mitchell will play Noah, while Elise will play Yonah, a daughter of Cain.

Big Little director Jackie Heffernan said Children of Eden, which premiered in the West End in London in 1991, provided a challenge and created opportunities for in-depth acting and singing.

And it was a challenge her young actors, including Mitchell and Elise, were rising to.

Their acting background encompassed appearing in the company’s earliest shows and Mitchell was the first child the company ever “flew”, appearing from the rafters as Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The pair had acted together in examination drama, attaining Exhibition Awards from Trinity College London two years in a row, for achieving the highest mark internationally.

Both had been part of the ensemble which took King Lear to Court Theatre as part of the company’s winning Sheila Winn Shakespeare in Schools Festival.

Additionally, Mitchell had been awarded a Best Actor award by Theatre New Zealand in last year’s Theatre Fest. “Who knows what lies in store for them in the future.

“They are both extremely humble, hugely rewarding to work with, and it has been a privilege for me to have been a part of their amazing journey so far,” Heffernan said.

Children of Eden is directed by Bryan Aitken and musically directed by Keeneth Love, both of Christchurch, and will stage at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre July 14 to 16.

By Susan Sandys - © The Ashburton Guardian - 11 July 2017