EASTERN Province are justifiably proud of their squash development programme and the latest evidence comes in the selection of four players for the EP teams competing in the Investec interprovincial which began in Port Elizabeth yesterday.
Thami Mngcete, 32, Bona Nomkala, 23, and Lonwabo Sigele, 23, are all in the EP B side playing in the C section, while the programme’s latest protégé, Thando Ncamani, is in the EP D side, playing in the D section.
Ncamani, 18, of Loyiso High School, underlined his potential when he was crowned Eastern Province under-19 champion this year and played No1 for the team at the u-19 interprovincial.
In a sense, it is a rags to riches story, because many of the development players have had to overcome tough obstacles to earn provincial recognition, coming from poor regions and generally having insufficient funds for equipment and transport, not to mention a lack of facilities in the townships and northern areas. Veteran EP coach Angela Difford, now 88, has been the driving force behind the development programme and still attracts scores of youngsters to the squash courts in the suburban areas when she holds her clinics and training sessions.
Fortunately for EP squash, Old Grey, under the mentorship of club member Darryl Smith, have stepped in to take the players a little further.
When Difford realised there seemed to be a dead end for the keen young players after they left school, she approached clubs and asked if they would take on at least one of the players to provide further assistance.
Smith, a counselling and educational psychologist at NMMU, was serving on the Old Grey committee at the time.
Yesterday he said they felt they just could not turn their backs on these boys.
“Chairman Mike Burmeister and I took what I suppose was a leap of faith and we took on four of the guys, while Bona (who initially played for Westview) was also with us in the first league,” Smith said of their decision in 2010. They initially relied on any sponsorships they could raise, plus the support of friends to provide the necessary funds for transport.
Starting off in the seventh league in 2010, Old Grey entered a development team and in the last three years, the players have improved to such an extent that Ncamani is now knocking hard on the door of the first league and the others are spread among the Old Grey second- and third-league sides.
Smith said they were grateful for funds from Squash SA to assist with the project, while this year they received money from the national lottery which had helped greatly.
While the exposure to league squash has been beneficial for the young players, Smith said they were also hoping to assist them with long-term career choices.
EP Squash Union chairman Alan Stapleton yesterday paid tribute to the development work done by people like Difford and Smith, while the Investec tournament sponsorship will also assist the programme. It is an ongoing project, but there is a sense that EP are, at least, making some progress.