A professional environment surely means telling the facts

2014-06-13 00:00

SCHOOLBOY rugby has definitely become more professional these days, with TV coverage and many first teams securing sponsorship from companies at the forefront of their chosen fields.

Old boys follow the trials and tribulations of their school’s fortunes on the rugby field and in many instances, rugby is a strong marketing tool by which a school maintains its standing among the country’s best education institutions.

While only a game, the reputation of many prestigious schools is measured by their prowess on the rugby field.

A strong, competitive side is respected by the opposition and when the fixtures are drawn up, the anticipated meeting between certain sides has supporters planning their weekend activities way in advance.

As a newspaper reporting on schoolboy rugby, with particular focus on the stronger schools with a large old boy base, there is a feeling that the reports have been harsh of late, particularly the Hilton versus Glenwood match this past weekend, with the word ‘Horror’ used in the headline, undermining the Hilton boys and shattering their confidence.

The use of this particular word may have been a little harsh, but we must bear in mind that these are schoolboys playing within an environment they are used to, against supposedly strength-on-strength sides, where rugby pride and tradition plays a huge role.

First team rugby players are revered by the rest of the school. They represent the school on the field of battle and while they face feared opposition week after week, they give of their best and learn the ups and downs of life, the reality of being down and having the character to learn, get up and try again.

I’m not sure if it is still done, but when I attended Hilton in the early 1980s, the whole school shared in the anticipation of a first team rugby win come Saturday afternoon, whether the team played at home or away. If it was possible, the school was bused into Pietermaritzburg to support the lads against College and the like, with even the odd match at Woodburn being attended.

There were some tough schools we played and sometimes, for years, we could not get the better of them. However, the wheel turns and somewhere along the line, the drought was broken, amid great celebration and tradition.

On emerging victorious against such opponents, the whole school would honour the team and the players in the dining room later that evening. Just over 400 boys stomping on the wooden floor singing “For they are jolly good fellows and so say all of us, us, us”, was spine tingling and showed our warriors how esteemed they were. They represented our school and we were proud of them.

That’s not to say anything has changed in 30-plus years. What has changed is the environment of schoolboy rugby. It’s become more professional, some schools offering chunky payment for professional coaches to put the boys through their paces and maintain their respect on the rugby field.

Scholarships are offered to talented players from outside the province, enticing them to boost the rugby ranks, and facilities plus coaching and medical back-up staff ensure the operation runs close to what is expected in the professional realms of the game.

Money, big money, is spent in this environment and this has to indicate that rugby results are important. They do matter and they do count.

Is it not fair to then say that with the game becoming more “professional” and serious at schoolboy level, then so too must the media move with the times and adopt the same attitude?

A newspaper’s task is to tell something like it is, not to be a fairytale book that is going to try and be “nice” to both sides.

It may sound harsh, but bad news has no friends and visits everyone, regardless of status in life or education gleaned. It definitely does rear its ugly head within school walls and as much as it tends to harm a Utopian environment and take away the “fluff” that keeps everything shiny, it has to be done. Schools are obviously placing a huge emphasis on rugby, and as a result, we as a newspaper treat schoolboy rugby more seriously.

It’s definitely not sensationalism on our part. In fact, we like to say it’s what really happened. We are not degrading anyone or pointing fingers at particular people. We’re just reporting on what went down.

Sure, schools go through a bad patch on the rugby field and one has to spare a thought for the players and coaches, their confidence and sheer exasperation in battling to overcome the harshness of it all and earn that confidence back again.

That’s where it counts. To come back stronger than you were. That’s a life lesson in itself and while the going is tough, the assurance that it will get better keeps the flame of determination burning.

Returning to Hilton. Yes, perhaps emotions do prove rather overwhelming when, as a passionate Old Boy, the first rugby team take harsh stick from opponents we used to compete against. Maybe, to get the players believing in themselves and what they can really produce on the field, they should play schools were matches would be more evenly contested.

Put pride in the pocket for the moment, take a step back and rebuild and revitalise the badge being played for.

That will then be a fairytale, a story worth telling. Let’s have reason and purpose to once again stand tall, puff our chests out and be proud of what we represent. Let’s make sure we really do send the opposition home to think again and pay homage to those first team lads who really are Jolly Good Fellows.

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