Excited young players from around the region will be gearing up for the second SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge finals at Woodridge next week.
The provincial finals, involving the five regional winners, will take place at Woodridge as scheduled despite the devastation caused by a massive fire in June.
The Thornhill school, who qualified as the PE Coastal champions, have confirmed that they are fully prepared to host the finals for the second year running on August 12.
SPAR Eastern Cape promotions and advertising manager Alan Stapleton said they were delighted to be returning to the country venue for the climax to the competition.
“We are really excited and pleased that we can go back to Woodridge this year after all that the school has been through over the past month,” he said.
“Having the finals there is a message to all, that Woodridge are back and standing tall, despite all the devastation.”
He added that they were equally happy to welcome some of the Eastern Cape’s most talented hockey players to an event that “talks to competitive camaraderie, the real essence of sport”.
Woodridge will join the other four regional winners – Union High (PE North), Kingsridge (East London Inland), Clarendon (East London Coastal) and York (Southern Cape) – in the grand finale.
Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge national director Les Galloway said the tournament continued to grow in the Eastern Cape as it established itself on the hockey calendar.
“I believe it will continue to grow year on year, because that is what we saw in KwaZulu-Natal and we are getting the same feeling in the Eastern Cape,” she said.
“The schools are giving it a big tick on their calendars and it is growing interest in the game, which is fantastic.”
Galloway said one of the challenges in the Eastern Cape was balancing the tournament with the traditional derby days many schools in the region had on their programme.
“These derby days are important, but some schools are looking to accommodate both events by sometimes holding their derbies during the week.
“There is definitely a space for the SPAR Challenge and it’s really great to give some of those schools, who don’t have the big derby days, an opportunity to play against a variety of sides.”
Galloway said the concept was opening up lines of communication between schools, who became aware of other teams at their level and realised they could broaden their hockey programmes.
“Sometimes even schools in close proximity don’t play each other, but the SPAR tournament has opened up further possibilities for them.”
She added that another vital aspect of the project was to identify young umpires with the potential to progress through the ranks.
“A number of umpires have been identified this year and will be officiating at the provincial finals.
“This is another chance for them to gain exposure and perhaps get chosen for provincial events. Even if it’s a minor tournament, it’s the start of an umpiring journey.”
Play will begin at 8am, with the final scheduled for 2.15pm.