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    Adopt-a-School initiative aims to unearth hidden hockey gems

    The popular SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge has taken a giant leap forward by incorporating an Adopt-a-School programme aimed at developing players at less-resourced institutions.

    Knysna High, which recently hosted one of the five regional legs of the 2024 tournament, is one of the schools leveraging the new platform to help grow the sport at lower-quintile places of learning.

    To this end, sports coordinator Sanette Milachowski said the Garden Route school had identified Chris Nissen Primary, a White Location institution, as its beneficiary.

    The school introduced hockey as an official sports code this year but struggled with a lack of facilities and equipment, she said.

    “We will buy sticks, balls, bibs and beacons and get them down to our field on Fridays.”

    In a twist, Knysna High’s first-team hockey girls will be mentoring Chris Nissen’s boys’ team.

    Growing the sport in and around the town was important, Milachowski said, as it was only Knysna, Wittedrift and Oakhill who currently had access to the necessary facilities to compete.

    By reaching out to schools from less-resourced communities the net can be cast wider to identify talent and create future stars.

    This was the vision that the national director of the Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge, Les Galloway, had for the Eastern Cape and Garden Route regions when it was first introduced in 2016.

    She explained that SPAR’s sponsorship had always granted the host school a gratuity to pay for aspects like security, medical support and staff putting in the extra hours.

    “What we are saying to our hosts this year is, ‘Here is X amount of money from SPAR and we would like you to invest it with a less-privileged school you feel has the potential to grow its hockey’.”

    Galloway emphasised that there were more than enough tournaments around South Africa that catered to the high-profile hockey schools.

    The intention of the Adopt-a-School initiative is to reach every single institution that offers the sport, no matter whether they are well-off or not.

    This way the organisers assist in developing players, ultimately enabling them to participate against top opposition at tournaments such as the Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge.

    These events also offered coaches an opportunity to interact with one another while showcasing the players who had benefited from the development drive, Galloway said.

    The Challenge comprises 45 schools divided into the following regions: Border Coastal, Border Inland, Gqeberha Central, Gqeberha Inland and North, and Garden Route.

    The regional tournament winners will come up against one another in a grand finale at Victoria Park High in Gqeberha on July 13 and 14.

    SPAR Eastern Cape advertising manager Roseann Shadrach said the development programme was massive for the Group as it allowed it to “make a meaningful impact in the lives of these youngsters”.

    Shadrach explained that the goal was for it to become a legacy project where one can look back in 10 years from now to see players who had come through the system competing at a high level.

    With proper mentoring, she said, girls from an “adopted” school could be playing provincial hocky in no time, which will give them the springboard needed to represent their country in years to come.

    “And it all would have started here.”

    Main Image: Spar

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