Who runs the pitch?

CityPress - - Sport - SIL­VER SIBIYA sil­ver.sibiya@city­press.co.za

The girls’ rugby team at Highveld Se­condary School in Eluk­wa­tini, Mpumalanga, has done a re­mark­able job of reach­ing the SA Schools Na­tional Win­ter Games Cham­pi­onships, which start to­mor­row in Dur­ban.

This is just six months af­ter they started play­ing the pop­u­lar sport. When the girls started par­tic­i­pat­ing in rugby in Jan­uary, they had no idea they would rise to such heights.

Highveld’s glit­ter­ing jour­ney to the throne of pro­vin­cial school rugby be­gan when for­mer rugby player Si­bongiseni Shongwe de­cided to start a de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme as way to bring the game to more ar­eas in the prov­ince.

“My dream was to in­tro­duce a rugby cul­ture to Eluk­wa­tini, and I am happy about what has hap­pened since I started the de­vel­op­ment drive,” says Shongwe, who has since been em­ployed as a de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer by the Mpumalanga Rugby Union.

How­ever, he says it was a strug­gle to start the pro­ject.

“Ini­tially, par­ents did not want their chil­dren to play rugby for fear of se­ri­ous in­juries,” he says.

But, af­ter months of en­gag­ing with the par­ents and the school gov­ern­ing body, they fi­nally al­lowed their kids to play.

Rep­re­sent­ing the re­gion in Dur­ban has come with an­other chal­lenge, says Shongwe.

“We had one granny ar­gu­ing that she couldn’t al­low her grand­child to go be­cause Dur­ban is too far and she was wor­ried about car ac­ci­dents.”

The team ini­tially only has eight chil­dren, but now there is a com­plete team of 22 play­ers.

The for­mer Blue Bulls Tuks Rugby Academy player says his mis­sion is to spread rugby through­out the prov­ince.

A great tal­ent un­earthed in the prov­ince is 14year-old Banele Mhango, who will rep­re­sent Mpumalanga in a chess cat­e­gory.

Just like most chil­dren who come from a dis­ad­van­taged back­ground, fi­nances are ham­per­ing Mhango’s progress and de­vel­op­ment.

He missed out on a chance to rep­re­sent the coun­try at the Com­mon­wealth Chess Cham­pi­onship in In­dia, which started last Sun­day, but all is not lost – the Li­hawu Se­condary School pupil is one of three young­sters cho­sen to rep­re­sent South Africa at the World Youth Chess Cham­pi­onships in Uruguay in Septem­ber.

For now, his fo­cus is on the Win­ter Games Cham­pi­onships, which will con­sist of 10 teams with nine pro­vin­cial win­ners and one in­vi­ta­tional team.

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