Underwater hockey ref hopes for UK spot

Wayne Rathbone to show skills at junior national championships in 2019

Woodridge College teacher Wayne Rathbone will pull on his officiating gear when he takes to the water for the junior national underwater hockey championships in February
Woodridge College teacher Wayne Rathbone will pull on his officiating gear when he takes to the water for the junior national underwater hockey championships in February

Port Elizabeth underwater hockey referee Wayne Rathbone will be holding his breath in anticipation ahead of the national junior underwater hockey championships next year.

Rathbone, 47, a former player turned referee, will also be hoping his skills as a national referee will earn him a spot on the panel to attend the 2019 Age Group Underwater Hockey World Tournament from August 14 to 24 in Sheffield, United Kingdom.

“Having been to a number of national and international competitions in various capacities as a referee, I am still filled with pride every time I am selected to attend our national events,” Rathbone said.

Having started his underwater hockey playing career in 1991 at Rhodes University, the Woodridge school teacher has gone on to represent both the Eastern Cape and the former Transvaal at provincial level.

However, he never had the honour of pulling on the green and gold in the sport.

On the officiating side, which began for Rathbone in the same year as his playing career, he has taken up various official roles at a number of competitions since 2008.

Across his international officiating career, he officiated at European championships in 2010, 2012 and 2017.

He also attended three world championships in Hungary (2013) as a referee, assessor and assistant tournament referee; in Stellenbosch (2016) as the tournament referee and in Quebec (2018), where he acted as a mentor referee, in addition to the numerous national events he has officiated at.

“I’m really looking forward to potentially being a part of the panel going to Sheffield next year, and it will be my third Age Group World Championships if I am selected.

It is one of my favourite competitions to attend because there are so many players who are keen to learn about the sport.

“It’s not like an elite-level competition where the emphasis is more on winning than development, so I suppose that is why it appeals more to the teacher side of me, in that it allows me to coach and be a referee at the same time.”

Rathbone said potential referees for the age group event would undergo rigorous testing and assessments before a final team was selected.

A former rugby and water polo coach, Rathbone said he had been a member of an underwater club where he did scuba diving when he was first introduced to the sport.

“I really liked the sport and also being a teacher. I enjoyed being in water.

“The sport is very quiet, a bit individualistic, but what made it exciting for me was that I played the sport along with my mates, so I really enjoyed it.”

Growing up and schooled in Port Alfred, the life sciences teacher at Woodridge College and Preparatory School attended Rhodes University, where he played the sport.

He has been playing for the underwater hockey club at Nelson Mandela Bay University for the last two years.

Rathbone started his teaching career at Pretoria Boys’ High School, before moving to Graeme College, then Kingswood College, followed by Woodridge College, where he has been for the past two years.

Rathbone said the sport was still relatively small in the Bay, with much of it being down to not having the right facilities, but interest was on the rise.

“I am very excited about the Newton Park Swimming Pool allowing us to host the interclub championships this year and the junior nationals next year, because it can only help the sport gain as much exposure with an eye on growing the sport in the city.”

He said there were programmes in place to ensure that those looking to take up the sport had an avenue in which to express their interest.

“There is a player at NMU, ex-SA player Josh Wattrus, who is a very good coach.

“There are also six ladies from the Rhodes University who have all played at a national level, and I have had the privilege to have coached some of them.

“The coaching potential is there.”

For more information on the sport and how to get involved, visit the NMU underwater club Facebook page at Nelson Mandela University underwater club or email Rathbone at wayne.rathbone@gmail.com