20 000 at Champion of Champions

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AGREED, it’s not a high-quality picture, but there is no doubting his high-quality performance on the grass track of Athlone Stadium.

In the front row, there are spectators applauding his near-perfect style of sprinting – or the fact that he’s just winning another race at senior schools.

In this beautiful photograph, taken against the backdrop of a packed Athlone Stadium, Mohammed Paleker glides effortlessly to another fine victory for his school Belgravia High.

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STAR ATHLETE: Mohammed Paleker.

The Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union’s (WPSSSU) track and field meetings were the most organised and biggest schools’ athletics meetings the world has never seen and, South Africa will never see the likes of it again in the new-found democracy of 1994.

One day and sometimes two days each week, from February to April (mainly during the summer months) the WPSSSU held athletics meetings with any number from 6000 to 8000 spectators per sectional meeting, including principals and teachers, attending the sectional track and field meetings, seated on one stand, with the overflow landing up on the weedy embankment or on the terraces below the stand.

Up to eight sectional meetings were held between February and April, with each sectional meeting comprising about eight schools, with age groups under 14-17 for boys and girls. Those older competed in the girls and boys open events — over seventeen.

Those who qualified at the sectional meetings would compete at the Champion of Champions on a Saturday, usually two weeks away from the Easter Saturday when the South African schools’ championships were held.

At the Champ of Champs, so named by all sundry, you would find 20 000 spectators crammed into Athlone Stadium, and the weedy embankment would be barely visible.

The first of these inter-schools meetings started way back in 1954 with the late Harry Hendricks at the forefront of the formation of WP senior schools.

Tuesday, April 6, 1954 at the De Beers Stadium in Kimberley, the starter’s gun signalled the start of the first inter-provincial meeting between Transvaal, Northern Cape and the WPSSSU. The high-quality schools competition was to last more than 40 years!

The late Harry Hendricks’ last position, as an athletics official, fittingly, had been the president of the senior athletics body, the South African Amateur Athletics Board.

The likes of Harry Hendricks’ history and contribution to the sport are not found anywhere in the picturesque country of ours. Not sure, old Harry wanted to be in a museum anyway! It wasn’t his style, he was a principled man. – Written by Clement du Plessis

Web Athlone Stadium 1975
PACKED TO THE RAFTERS: Athlone Stadium, the home of the biggest inter-schools track and field athletics meetings in the world. This rare photo captures a typical schools sectional track and field meeting in 1973-75, the period the athlete, in action, Mohammed Paleker ran.
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OUTGUNNED: Mohammed Paleker wins the 200m at Athlone Stadium.
Paleker web insert
HEADS UP: Mohammed Paleker wins the 100m at the Athlone Stadium.

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