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A tale from Dale

Mon, 21 Oct 2013 07:10
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A couple of months ago, in the final fixture of the school year, Dale Junior School's Under 13A team beat Bishops 13A by 50 points to 5.  

It was not the first time. In 2010, a touring Bishops Under 13A team got beaten 50-0 by Dale. This so intrigued me, given that Bishops is one of the richest schools in the country and Dale a struggling state school in one of our worst run provinces, that I headed to King Williams Town to investigate.

I found a veritable little rugby factory:  there are 500 boys and almost all of them play rugby. The 10 male teachers all double as rugby coaches.  

They coach for four hours a week and the boys put in two hours of practice every day.  Obviously this produces great rugby. But it was the by-product that I found most interesting: two thirds of these boys come from single parent families so the coaches double as father figure.  

It is from the coaches that these boys absorb what it is to be a man. And it’s all good, from what I could see: they learn discipline, team spirit, respect, confidence, emotional resilience and how to channel aggression into a measured fearlessness.

A little further up the hill is the senior school, another grand, colonial era building. Here the picture is less rosy. Despite its best efforts, Dale College suffers from the eco-system in which it operates.  

Here the boys reach that adolescent growth phase where protein is crucial to building muscle and strong bones. Instead, poverty dictates that the boys eat bread three times a day. Because the school has a 98% matric pass rate in a sea of failing schools, it attracts pupils from as far as Mdantsane, 50 kilometres away. Getting to practice and matches means hustling for extra taxi money.

Dale has a small, basic gym. Their rugby coach doubles as buildings administrator because they can’t afford a full-time coach. The only help they get from their local SARU union, Border, is some part-time coaching from one of their coaches, which the school has to pay for.

This is in sharp contrast to schools like Bishops, Paarl Gim or Grey College who have entire departments devoted to rugby: specialist coaches, biokineticists, physiotherapists and state-of-the-art training equipment.  

What Dale has in abundance is talent, passion and culture. In the lofty corridors at Dale, I encountered the same sort of courtesy as I get from the boys at St Johns or Bishops. As the coach, Grant Griffiths, pointed out: "You couldn't ask for a better bunch of boys. They are so polite, so humble, so hard-working."

I stayed on for their annual derby against their traditional rival: Queens College from nearby Queenstown, another 90% black school still steeped in the traditions of British public schools.

Aside from the game itself, - which Dale won 21-8 - what I found fascinating was how both schools had integrated the various traditions.  At the start of the game, the boys massed in stands at the edge of the field - Queens all in yellow; Dale in red and black - sang their traditional school songs.

Initially these were in English and  Latin. As the game progressed, the drums got louder and the songs switched to isiXhosa. The boys told me that, at home,  they tap their elders for ancient war songs and apartheid-era struggle songs and integrate them into a repertoire.

The point of all this is that this is where we should be looking if we want more black Springboks. It is schools that produce Springboks. Since 1992, some 21 schools have produced 40% of all the Boks capped since then. All these schools are either private schools or former Model C schools, which means that most of their pupils are white.

This is why we produce so few black Springboks. The obvious solution is to strengthen former Model C schools which are now mostly black. Like Dale College. Bishops - which Dale consistently beats the hell out of in the junior years - goes on to produce twice as many Springboks.

Six to Dale's three. And that is simply a case of better resources. The most productive is Grey College in Bloemfontein, with 22 Boks. Second is Paarl Gimnasium with 10. Both these schools have highly organized and committed old boys' organisations who pump funds into the schools.

By contrast, Dale, which has in the two decades since apartheid ended, transformed from a wholly white school to a predominantly black one, gets very little help from its old boys.  The only sponsorship it gets is R40,000 from FNB every alternate year for the hosting of its Classic Clash against Queens.

If we want the Springboks to become consistent world-beaters, we need to be nurturing talent wherever it is to be found. And it is to be found in abundance at Dale. It seems to me an opportunity waiting to be seized: it costs only around R30,000 a year for tuition and boarding fees.

Putting a boy in the hostel means he will be properly fed and won't have to beg for taxi money to get to practice. Invest in the same coaches, mentors and training equipment that Bishops and Grey Bloem enjoy and you'd soon find yourself with another Springbok factory.

By Liz McGregor, author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be  Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers R195)
This column first appeared in Business Day
 

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