THE sports fraternity mourns the loss of one of South Africa’s top sporting talents during the 1960s.
Kenny Roman, formerly of Cape Town, died in Brisbane, Australia, this week, after losing his battle with cancer. He was 68.
“Kenny’s death is a great loss to the sports community; he will be sorely missed,” says Robin April, the former 800m champion, and record-holder in the 1960s, who also was a teammate of Roman’s while they were both at Hewat in 1969.
“We had wonderful times!”
Roman is survived by his former wife, Issie (Isabella Stoffberg) and his two sons, Emile and David, in Australia.
Roman and Stoffberg met in Cape Town and left for Australia in 1980. She is from Rondebosch East and Roman from Maitland. (Interestingly, Issie is the niece of Norman Stoffberg, a well-known athlete of the 1940s, who became a sports administrator later.)
100m, 200m and long jump
Roman’s last visit to Cape Town was in the summer of 2014 – he visited many friends, including those connected to baseball, football and athletics.
Says April: “Kenny was here on his last visit. He sat here in my home and he discussed with me the possibility of a coaching clinic for athletes and the revival of the inter-school sectional meetings in Cape Town.”
Unfortunately, those plans fell through the mat as Roman fell ill during his vacation.
“He was hospitalised for several weeks before he could return to Brisbane. At first, he could not fly home immediately once out of the hospital and he had to wait until he was stronger before he could fly back,” says April.
Roman attended Zonnebloem Primary School in the 1950s and Harold Cressy High School in the 1960s. After his schooling, he enrolled at the Hewat Training College in Crawford, Cape Town, in 1969.
While at Harold Cressy, Roman excelled in the 100m, 200m and long jump events, holding Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU) and South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSA) records in the different age groups. He regularly competed at the inter-schools sectional meetings at the Green Point Track.
Roman built up a huge reputation as an athlete at Harold Cressy and by the time he got to Hewat in 1969, he was already an established sprinter having competed against Cecil Blows in the senior ranks.
Riveting rivalry with Cecil Blows
It was at Hewat where Roman was part of a long line of top-class athletes.
He clocked a world-class time of 10,4 seconds in the 100m at an inter-schools meeting held on the cinder track of the Hewat Training College in 1969.
He competed against champion sprinter Cecil Blows, his elder, in the senior men’s sprints on cinder tracks all over the peninsula, including Bellville, Crawford and Green Point. Blows was already a seasoned sprint champion and Roman’s senior by seven years. Though Blows had already started teaching at Wittebome High School in Wynberg from 1962, he continued to compete in athletics at the highest level.
“Kenny and Cecil were Olympic material, of that I have no doubt,” says April, who founded the Hewat Athletics Club in 1968 and the Spartans Athletics Club in 1970 at his Lansdowne home in Cape Town.
“Blows came across as a natural in the sprints, while Roman was the one who put in the hard yards. The winner regularly changed hands in the sprints,” says April.
“Kenny was a beautiful athlete. He trained hard, he was a muscular and stylish sprinter, but over time you could see that he was going to become heavier like his father,” adds April, who returned to Hewat in 1969 to complete a special course.
Roman, Blows, April and Newman were the quartet who held the Western Province medley record in 1969, the only year Roman was at the college.
Star football goalkeeper and baseball pitcher
Roman was not just an athlete, he also played football and baseball – excelling at both sports.
George Fester, his friend since their teenage days in Maitland, picks up the story:
“Kenny was a footballer too. He played for Selwyn Parks as a goalkeeper in the under 16 age group. He then moved to Luton Rovers to play in their under 18 and first teams as their goalkeeper,” says Fester.
Roman represented the Western Province Football Board and the WPSSSU as a goalkeeper in 1965.
“In 1969, Kenny moved from goalkeeper to the midfield where he represented WPSSSU while at Hewat. In those days Hewat played their sport under the WPSSSU,” explains Fester.
Roman was also a star baseball pitcher for Western Province at City Park and for Cape District in Wynberg. He played for Maitland Giants and Fester was his catcher.
“We were the best,” Fester says proudly.
Giants dominated the ball scene after Dodgers.
“We won everything that was on offer: league and knockout cups,” Fester enthuses.
‘Kenny was a great sportsman’
Giants quit the Western Province Baseball Union in 1978 after WP would not accept the sports policies of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos).
“I was the Maitland Giants delegate to union meetings when the union rejected Sacos’ policies in 1978. We packed up at City Park and joined District and Kenny went with us,” recalls Fester with laughter in his voice.
Roman carved out a highly successful career in baseball – some enthusiasts might argue that he was even better at baseball than athletics. But Fester would not be drawn into it.
“Ah man, Kenny, as a sportsman, was great, he was a humble guy, he never made a fuss of winning,” says Fester in tribute of his late friend since 1960.
- A memorial service will be held, tomorrow, 20 February, at the Kenmere Primary School, 10th Avenue, in Kensington, Cape Town, at 12 noon.