HM Newsletter: 25 June
The young boy stares with shocked disbelief at the doctor as he quietly pronounces "You will never be able to play sport."
It is a cold Friday evening and the 1st rugby team members are huddled in the icy change room beneath the Gilfillan stadium for the time honoured tradition of the presentation of the jersey to each of the players prior to the match on Saturday. There is a decidedly nervous tension in the air as they quietly stand at the arrival of the guest who will present the jerseys. He is vaguely known to some of the older players as they greet each other and sit in unison in this their new home.
The guest starts his talk: "Ten years ago I was told that I would never be able to play sport" and rolls up the leg of his trouser to reveal the extent of the deformation in his leg. "As I limped out of that surgery, I knew that the decision would be to accept the odds or to fight them."
On the wall of the staircase leading up to the Hilton College Marketing offices are two framed panoramic "before and after" photos by Fred Grant of the entire school on the open stand at Gilfillan. In the first, alone in front of this human wall of black, stands a figure kitted in the 1st team rugby white, against the touchline, about to attempt a conversion that is needed to secure a one point victory. It is the last kick of the game and the final whistle will shrill at the conclusion of the kick. Time in the photo is suspended and the anxiety on the faces of the boys is captured forever. The second photo shows the pandemonium amongst the boys as the ball soars high between the posts to secure an unlikely victory.
"Tomorrow, you have a choice to accept the odds or to fight them" the guest adds as he shows them his club foot and under-developed calf muscle. The jerseys are handed out in a silence similar to that in the doctor's surgery ten years ago when he announced the prognosis.
In a strange way this message seems to infiltrate amongst every boy in the school, and in the first match of the day at the Astroturf, the U14A hockey team are 0-2 down at half-time and are faced with a choice; "accept the odds or fight them". They choose the latter and secure an astonishing 3-2 victory. The message goes viral and the U16A and First Team hockey secure resounding victories. The stage is set and the drama is unfolding on numerous fields across the campus.
In mid-afternoon, Gilfillan looks majestic and there is not a seat to be found as a watery-like sun breaks through the low-hanging grey cloud. A smiley face winks at the crowd from the Hilton formation. Do these Davids know something we spectators do not as the red and white Goliaths take position on the field? The Old Boys are packed shoulder to shoulder and the emotion amongst them is electric. A heart appears on the Hilton formation and beats, echoing the tension and expectation amongst the spectators.
In the murky twilight, hearts are close to cardiac arrest as the Michaelhouse forwards maul the ball meter by agonizing meter closer to the Hilton try-line - the LED time display shows 0:00. The ball is recycled and speeds down the Michaelhouse backline - knock-on! Bedlam! Final whistle! Mayhem! This has been a victory of heart and passion against a highly talented Michaelhouse team. Amidst the chaos of the field invasion, our boys stay in formation as they wait for the arrival of the muddied white-clad gladiators. "O Boys of Hilton" thunders across the battle zone and echoes across the Umgeni.
Amidst the confusion of hand shaking, back slapping and hugging I fortuitously bump into an Old Boy who has a slight limp. We shake hands and I thank him for being at the match. Ten years previous, Josh Negri heard the words "You will never be able to play sport". He is the lone figure in white in the "before" photograph that landed the winning conversion against St Charles. He handed out the first team rugby jerseys on Friday evening and said "accept the odds or fight them". There is a strange moment of silence that engulfs me amidst the uproar as I watch him walk slowly into the gloom to join his brother Sebastian who had played a storming match.
We will never uncover all the heroic stories that unfolded throughout the day but we will be able to say: "I was there!" I arrived home in the dark to the usual welcome from our dogs. As I ruffled the Border Collie's coat, I'm positive she winked at me, while out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the Jack Russell do a flick-flak!
Have a wonderful holiday!