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Bringing rugby to the Cape Flats

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Controversy over the Springbok team’s demographic composition again shows the need for rugby investment in black schools. A non-profit organisation is trying to do just that.

In 1990 there were 17 rugby-playing schools in Mitchell’s Plain and the fledgling rugby culture benefited players like Stormers flanker Nizaam Carr, who had grown up in the area. Today only three schools in Cape Town’s second-largest township offer rugby with a possible reason for the decline being the increasing pressure on teachers to get children to perform in the classroom.

Consequently, this was where teachers preferred investing their spare time rather than in extra-curricular activities.

Now non-profit organisation CoolPlay is trying to get rugby into more South African schools. Sponsored by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Vuka Rugby, The Learning Trust and the South African Rugby Legends Association, it currently helps 10 Mitchell’s Plain schools and several others across the Cape Flats play rugby.

It has developed an after-school programme combining life-skills and rugby training.

On Heritage Day CoolPlay helped Healthfield High organise and host an inter-schools rugby competition that saw participation from 10 Cape Flats schools. Players ranged from 11 to 19 years old and Masiphumelele High School – a school where a year ago there was no rugby – won the under-19 competition.

In August several Springboks coached students participating in the programme. During the Heritage Day event, those students reciprocated by recording and sending a goodwill message to the players now participating in the World Cup tournament in England.

Head coach Payi Lungelo said: “We are seeing our coaching sessions pay off. While the kids are still learning the basics of rugby, they are making big steps in their personal lives. Xolani Mahlulo has done tremendous work at Masiphumele … The boys engage freely and willingly about issues personal to them or taking place in their daily lives. One of the kids underwent an operation midway through the season and the kids talked about visiting the boy. CoolPlay is helping young learners care for each other and today’s event was a defining moment in the season.”

One group that could not attend the tournament was Bonnyton Secure Care facility, a state centre for young offenders. Its players are serving time, often for violent pasts. Andrew Bantom of Bonnyton said: “The success of CoolPlay lies in the fact the coaches are there, rain or shine, building the trust and respect required to affect real change among our residents. Through the structured rugby programme, they have assisted us in tackling some of the greatest challenges our residents are facing on a daily basis such as disillusionment, inter-personal conflict and frustration.” Scott Sloan, GroundUp/News24

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