By CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
THE originators of the first inter-house schools’ athletics meeting affiliated to the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU) in 1954 were Alexander Sinton’s Franklin Joshua and the school’s sports master Daniel MacKay.
The school was affiliated to the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU), a union that provided sport for non-white pupils up until 1994.
Previously, most schools of the now defunct WPSSSU held biangular, triangular and quadrangular athletics meetings with no formal eliminations process in the form of an inter-house meeting.
Daniel MacKay, 83, or Dennis as he was better known, had been the school’s only coach and athletics organiser since 1954 up until 1960. By this stage, the school had won several athletic meetings, and the workload had become huge. MacKay needed help in the form of “House Masters”.
“By 1960, we were top in the A Section, still just the two sections; an A and a B section. In that year I went to Joshua to talk to him about how we could improve the house system. Joshua’s method of sorting the athletes didn’t work because he would say ‘7A you are in Moffat (green) house, 7B you are in (red) Beda’. In 1962 I got a class list of each class and divided the boys and girls into age groups and then I separated them into houses. I would then hand over the team (squad) to the house masters. It was a helluva job man,” said MacKay.
The school had four houses – Beda (red), Moffat (green), Iona (blue) and Wesley (yellow) – and were named by Joshua after the names of residences at Fort Hare University where he had studied.
Training would take place before school started, during intervals and after school. Then a process of elimination whereby the top four athletes (of each house) in each age group and event would compete at the inter-house athletics meeting.
“This created a competition for the athletes. That was important,” said MacKay.
In those days Sinton trained at Clover Crescent.
The house masters would stand at the winning post and tick off the names of the first four athletes over a period of two weeks. The same method was applied to the field events. After the two weeks, MacKay would already have a clear picture of who is in the Sinton team.
Thereafter, the inter-house meeting would take place where the four houses competed against each other based on a points system.
This way of doing it made his job easier and he could get the best athletes of the school to compete at the A Section.
Soon, this form of eliminations were copied by all the schools of the WPSSSU in preparation for the sectional meetings.
“We weren’t afraid to share this with the other schools. It was a way of strengthening the athletics system. I would share our concept with the schools at the meetings held at Spes Bona High School,” said MacKay.
All of the high schools followed this system of eliminations at inter-house level. At the time no more than 20 high schools made up the A and B sectional athletics meetings at the Green Point Track.
MacKay was astute when it came to maximising points at the A-Section.
“In 1969, I had Ivan Masters and Herman Gibbs in one age group in the 100m and 200m. Gibbs was going to win the 100 and 200m. So, I shifted Masters up to the 400m which he won.
“You had to juggle some of your athletes to see where you could get your points.
“By 1969 everything went plain sailing for our athletics team. Sinton was winning the A-Section on a regular basis,” reflected MacKay.
Later, MacKay got some wise heads to join his coaching staff.
“Herman Abrahams joined the staff later. He would take care of the track events. Julian Lenders took care of the high jump. Pat Esau took care of shot put. Bernie Levendal took care of the javelin. Connie Hartley took care of long jump and I was sort of the general supervisor.
“They made inputs and we would discuss what works and what doesn’t. This was a smart arrangement. It was a smart team. They were motivated because Sinton was winning already. They would accept any advice and they would also give any advice.
“Hartley would come forward and say that he had watched the 1968 Olympics and the relays in particular. He noticed that relay runners never looked back and that the takeovers were smooth. We had a look at it and I studied the relays of the Olympics. I then improved our system of relay running,” said MacKay.
At Wesley Training College he was taught that the best runner had the privilege of finishing off the relay.
“Sinton wins another relay”
“I cut that out completely. My best runner ran the second leg which is a longer leg to run than the bend runners,” enthused MacKay.
Relay running had become a hallmark of Sinton’s athletic achievements over the years.
“The relays were the highlight of my athletics career as a coach at Sinton,” he said.
MacKay remembers Philip Tobias (a former president of WPSSSU) announcing that “Sinton wins another relay”. Tobias said it in the spirit of athletics.
“We only had a problem with the relays in the boys open section because, in those days, most of the students completed matric as under 17 athletes,” he said.
The relay draws for the inter-house athletics meetings were done at school together with the takeover judges. MacKay also introduced this system at senior schools level “and they accepted it”.
MacKay remembers the March Past being done in the middle of the day.
March like a winning team
“At one sectional meeting, we were nowhere in sight of winning. They (the Sinton athletes) were marching so laboriously and I said to them ‘you are not marching like a winning team. Here is trouble here today. If you want to win, you must march like a winning team’”.
That year, 1972, Audrey Louw was the girls’ captain and she said, “Well, I am going to win the long jump now.”
James Goliath was the boys’ captain. And he said that he was “going to win the javelin now”.
Great day for Sinton
And it is exactly what they did.
“From then onwards the points just came rolling in.
“Before Rive (Richard Rive of SP) and Barendilla (Colin Barendilla of Harold Cressy) knew it, they had lost the battle.
“That was a great moment, a great day for Sinton,” recalls MacKay.
*Next week we bring the story of how MacKay got to Sinton in April 1953, and what influenced him to become such a dominant athletics coach and more . . .