When Justin Smith came to Jeppe from Rynfield Primary five years ago, the thought of playing rugby for the black and whites was what excited him.
But he had Mr Hillock as his Afrikaans teacher so, it turned out, it wasn’t to be. Not that he’s sorry. When he raised the Aitken Trophy in Randburg on Sunday as the captain of the fourth Jeppe team in a row to win Joburg’s most prestigious hockey competition, he was very happy, but also proud of being part of the continuing growth of the sport at the school.
“When Mr Hillock persuaded me to go to hockey trials all those years ago, there was no one in my year who had actually played the game before. We struggled, initially, and I can’t remember winning many games as under-14s,” he says. “The next year we came 3rd in the Boden tournament and as under-16s we won most of our games. And the Jeppe 1st team has been among the best for quite a few years now.”
That’s continued this year. The 2018 team hasn’t lost a game, and with all the festivals and tournaments they participate in, they have played close to 30 so far. “We were unbeaten at the Nomads and we have beaten all of our top rivals so far,” Justin says. “There are three big games coming up, though. We have to play Pretoria Boys’ High and Affies, and then there’s the return game against KES, we drew the first one 2-2.”
Justin is hoping to make the Southern Gauteng under-18A team this year, having made the B team last year. He played for the under-16As two years ago.
He gives a lot of the credit for the performance of the team to the coaches Mr Lance Louw and Mr Peter de Lange. “Mr Louw is great at tactics and he works on game plans with us. Mr De Lange works on skills, especially with the strikers. They are good motivators and the spirit in the team is excellent.”
Looking back on his five years, Justin says playing hockey at the school has been a great experience. “I try to shut out the crowd when I play, but I do appreciate the support that the boys at the school give us when we play at home, I know it’s important to other guys in the team.”
And there were a fair number of supporters at the Randburg Astro when Justin lifted the Aitken for Jeppe’s unprecedented fourth win a row. It was a special moment for a special Jeppe boy and an impressive young man.
Good thing Mr Hillock spoke him out of playing rugby.