GSWP – THE TRANSVAAL SCHOOL DAYS

From the pen of Theo Garrun…

I started teaching at Highlands North Boys’ High in 1979 and, having played water polo in the army, and at Wits, I was put in charge of the school’s only team, and told to contact George Lobo at St David’s, who was organizing the fixtures.

He convened a meeting of the schools who played the game – there were only 11 of them. They were King Edward, Jeppe, Parktown, Athlone, St John’s, St Stithians, St David’s, Highlands, Roosevelt, Hyde Park and the German School.

So, I guess, that gathering was the Transvaal Schools Association in those days. The coach and manager of the two teams (u-19 A and B) that went to the SA Schools tournament were chosen at that meeting and the travel and other arrangements were made by the Transvaal Schools Swimming Association, run by the late Johan Terblanche, who was also the chairman of SA Schools Water Polo in those days.

The swimming association’s treasurer/secretary was Dudley Wallendorf, who taught at Athlone Boys’ High where Buddy Herd was the principal. Herd had no official position in the association. But he effectively ran things behind the scenes and coached Athlone who, along with KES and the German School, were the strongest teams and supplied most of the players to the provincial teams.

When I arrived, Herd roped me in and, in 1980 I attended the SA Schools tournament, as manager of the B team. The coach of both teams was Mike Leemhuis, then a teacher at KES, and Herd was manager of the A side.

Lobo left teaching to become a professional soccer referee in 1981, so the organization shifted to Athlone, run by Herd and Wallendorf. 

Herd had a heart attack in 1981 and suddenly retired, so from 1982 I became the chairman of the loose association and, for the first time, we elected a committee and drew up a constitution – to operate as a sub-association of Transvaal Schools Swimming.

Polo was still very much a minor sport. The schools had 1 senior and 1 junior team, mainly, and in the beginning games were played on Wednesday afternoons after the boys’ schools galas.

Interprovincial competition had started, in likewise fashion, with matches between Transvaal and Natal played at the end of the traditional 10 schools gala that was held each year.

It evolved into a proper tournament in the early 1970s, played in either Joburg or Durban in the early years. 

Rick Proctor had taken over from Leemhuis at King Edward by then and between us, we decided we needed an interschool tournament, so we revived the Edwardian Cup tournament, which hadn’t been played for a few years, in 1981.

After the departure of Leemhuis, Old Eds SA national player Dave Adams coached the Transvaal team for a few years, until Piet van Tonder moved down from Zimbabwe to take up a post at St Stithians.

He was to coach various Transvaal teams for the next 25 odd-years, with considerable success. Other teachers who served on the committee, and coached or managed teams in those years were Andre Britz, Athol Reid, Dave Pitcairn, Mike Allin, Walter Goodwin, Brian Webster, Dave McGaw and Peter Wright.

At interprovincial level, Natal pretty much ruled the roost, with Transvaal beating them on the odd occasion in the A section.

The two provinces had the most players so they both soon introduced a third team (under-16 colts) to play in the B section at SA Schools in the early 1990s. That was to lead to the introduction of a junior age group, and the start of the move towards the current, multi-age group tournament.

There was very little girls water polo. In Joburg a few of the co-ed schools played – Hyde Park, Roosevelt, Krugersdorp, Rand Park and Edenvale. In about 1985 we picked a girls team that played against Western Province at SA Schools, but it was a short-lived experiment and girls polo only really took off when the girls’ schools became involved many years later.

Water polo then was, as it is now, very much a coach-driven sport. In the late 1970s the German School was coached by a Dr Puxhandel, the Austrian trade commissioner to SA and a former Austrian national player. He had two sons at the school, who along with a number of others from there, made the SA Schools team.

After Puxhandel was recalled to Austria the game waned and eventually died out completely at the school.

Jeppe had a spell as the top school under Dave Pitcairn, as did KES under Brian Webster, and later St Stithians under, in turn, Van Tonder, Pitcairn and Webster. That was to change, of course, when Vlado Trninic went to St John’s.

There were scores of fine players who passed through the Transvaal teams in the time I was involved. Among those that stand out are, in in the early years, Bruce Bowker, Neville Watt, Craig Hinds and Arno de Nooy. And later on, Duncan Woods, Brendan Varrie, Steven Standfest and Allistair Stewart. All went on to play for South Africa.

In my time as chairman we hosted the SA Schools tournament twice – in 1982 and 1989 – and saw the game grow in terms of the number of schools playing and the number of teams per school. It was, however, still pretty low key compared to the current situation.

Water polo is now far more professionally run, no question, and the introduction of bigger swimming pools made all the difference. In the early days, schools typically played in the deep end of a swimming pool – a field 15 to 20m in length, tops – and even if they wanted to have more teams there would not have been enough space for them to practice in.

It’s a different world to the one I bowed out of in 1995, and the game has become the premier summer code, for boys and girls, at schools in South Africa. All credit to those running the sport now, and God’s strength to them for the future. 

Theo Garrun is a former educator and editor at The Star. More of his writing can be found at the http://theogarrun.blogspot.co.za