Stellenbosch University
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The Wonder Years (1961-1963)
Author: Sport Science: Media / Sportwetenskap: Media
Published: 07/11/2016

It is said, the older one gets the further you walked to school. It's the same when you talk about an incident that happened in the past, writes Prof Justus Potgieter, lecturer in the Department of Sport Science.

It is the year 1961.

With Return to Sender and Daan Desimaal, die Rand-Sent Man playing in the background on my new National transistor radio; I unpack my tin trunk. I read the labels on the neatly folded shirts my mom packed. Next to my name are the letters DB. It is not a title or degree. It was for the washing ladies to identify our laundry. But it still made me feel important. I am a resident of section 10 of Dagbreek residence. And I'm going to study BA Jokl (at this point I still did not know the word "swot"). Everything was so new and exciting – the beginning of a new life adventure.

One of the seniors in the section dismissively refers to the physical education course as "tree climbing and tolgooi" but it not bothered me. I thought he was simply jealous.

I remember our first gymnastics class. It was an experience. A senior PE student informed us in advance of how holy the gymnastics hall (later renamed as the 'Spele Saal') is. No one is allowed to walk with normal shoes in the hall, and God help you if you would drag a landing mat on the floor.

And that brings me to my first legend. Mr Jan Kelder. Each gymnastics class we had to line up against the wall; in front of the muurrekke – something I saw for the first time in my life. We had to stand in a row from short to tall. Benny Nolte (a wonderful gymnast and the only student who could do a giant swing on the high bar) and David Berning took position at the beginning of the line. I was closer to the end, along with Piet le Roux. Aubrey du Plessis (a brilliant swimmer and first team Matie rugby player) was at the end of the row of young men; barefoot, bare-chested, dressed in neat white shorts.

The next part of the ritual was that, after reading the attendance list, we had to turn right and run to the hall. Then we played a warm-up game. Each lesson had a new game. In later years I was sorry that I did write down these games in my "training material" (still have not recorded a new word) file. I was pathetic with gymnastics. It was the first time in my life that I met a bridge and had never heard of a "kiep". I was under the impression that "kiep" meant sleeping! "Diefsprong" and "Flik Flak" were Greek to me.

Mr Kelder regularly evaluated our gymnastic excellence. He repeatedly to my poor efforts said: "Thirty percent for the effort." The two of us did get along well though because I could swim pretty well after many years of practice in the Kat River. He even used me for the occasional demonstrations. But I like many of my classmates, struggled with the breaststroke and was not great in "koerantswem". Jasper Hough was not at all an enthusiastic swimmer. He wore a baaipet because he apparently had problems with his ears. Mr Kelder did not have much sympathy.

Another legend was Dr Postma. He was ahead of his time and tried to teach us the scientific aspects of physical education. As a true scientist he was always neatly dressed in a white lab coat. We had to do the step-up test and other fitness tests and were regularly weighed and measured. "Possie" was also responsible for tennis and other small games. It was typical European games. I can remember the name "Kastie". The rest have faded into the depths of my memory. During my graduate studies in Canada, I wrote to Dr Postma to obtain information about his groundbreaking-book, Introduction to Physical Education. He quickly wrote back. His detailed letter was dated 25 December 1972. How many teachers would write on Christmas Day for an alumnus? In my eyes, Prof Postma is a legend.

Then I had the privilege to know Hans van der Merwe. We referred to him as "Uncle Hans" (even after he obtained his doctorate). This shows once again how special was the relationship between teachers and students at our department.

Another legend was Mr Wieffering. I'm sure if his name would be called during a reunion, that there would be a smile on most men's faces. "Wieffie" was a cheerful man's man. He always had a joke. He gave massage classes in the small hall. I was happy to lie in the sun on the massage table and listen to Mr Wieffering stories. (He was an enthusiastic fisherman.) He also gave us cricket and football and presented the anatomy course.

One Friday during the 12:10 anatomy lecture someone knocks politely on the classroom door and opens it. (If such an incident occurred today on TV you would hear the studio audience cheer.) Who comes into the room? The legendary Doc Craven. He warns us that a traffic cop is hiding at the Coetzenburg klipbruggie. Thus, we must make sure to stop at the stop sign.

I enjoyed Doc Craven's class. But I did not always understand the rugby lectures. It was too complicated for me. It was the only subject I ever failed at university with 40%. The rumour was that Doc would throw our papers in the air; the sets that Moos caught had a rate of 60%, and the students whose papers landed on the ground, had to be content with 40% I apparently was one of those unfortunates.

Our classmate, Mannetjies van der Merwe had no problem with the rugby lectures. He explained concepts such as the advantage line to me, but with no success. Mannetjies later played wing for WP.

Doc Craven also gave baseball. He developed his own hitting tee. It was a wooden pole with a piece of rubber hose at the top. We placed the baseball on it and then hit with enthusiasm: a kind of catharsis. "Joller" van Tonder could hit the baseball deep into the vineyard where it got lost. He had with simple a natural stroke. Is it not strange how people remember this probably trivial? For example, by placing his baseball talent on his resume, would not have helped him much in his later career, but many of us were fascinated.

Between the 40-minute classes a siren was sounded. One afternoon during one of our baseball lectures a classmate (I think it was Aubrey du Plessis) imitated the siren. It was 10 minutes early. Doc immediately told us to put away the device and adjourn. It was nice to go home early.

Moos Robyn, who worked in the copying room with Henry Orsen, was also one of the departmental legends. Always polite, helpful and conscientious; although Moos sometimes smoked furtively in the copying room. Two true "gentleman."

Two other legends were Willy Gordon and Dennis Christian.

Hennie March was in charge of the equipment room. He was always polite and courteous, but strict. He would not rest until every tennis ball or colour ribbon has been accounted for.

I know it is risky not to mention or to single out certain individuals and I apologise in advance if I offended anyone. Some of the people I name are probably not legends in the true sense of the word, but all of them were interesting people with special talents and personalities.

In our student days Doc Craven decided that it would be good for our general knowledge to enter the world of the film industry. We danced and hopped in circles on the Coetzenburg rugby field. I cannot quite remember what it was, but I do know that most of us felt ridiculous. The film, The Spring of our love, was a "box office flop". My movie experience will therefore not appear on my resume.

Jannie Malan and Bokkie Basson were the first two classmates who I met at Maties.

Jannie and I are still best friends and regularly communicate with each other – more than 55 years already. We did a lot of things together. Most ideas were his. I was merely his sidekick. For example, in our second year, we organised a fruit festival for Jokl students on the field across from the Van der Stel rugby pavilion and in our third year a dance in the Banquet Hall. It was my first dance. My partner for the evening, Dixie, and I got into a square formation and "danced"  - all along the length of the hall, then a quarter turn to the left and the width of the hall, then a quarter turn to the left ... and so on. It was a huge success. But I doubt if Dixie had experienced the same fascination.

Jan Erasmus initially enrolled for BA (Normal), but early in the quarter, he asked about my course. His response was: "That sounds interesting," and the next day he went to Admin to change course. He and Johnny Malan played for the Maties u20 rugby team. Our friend, Bokkie Basson, later played rugby for the Northern Cape.

Another talented rugby player in our class was Vossie Vosloo. He was a former pupil of Gill College. During Intervarsity he played for one of the senior teams. It felt good that I personally knew one of the major players.

Tienie Olivier was a quiet BSc student with a Latin zoological nickname, Aves. I have no idea why. Tienie was a fairly quiet classmate, but had a wonderful sense of humour.

Willem Potgieter was known for his upper arm strength. He could climb the ropes to the gymnastics hall's ceiling and then slowly and controlled come down again. As far as I know he was the first of our classmates who died. (Heart attack at a young age.)

Mike Smith was a Boland Badminton Champion. He later became a leader in Stellenbosch's Faculty of Education. He was a great classmate and had a special sense of humour.

Archie Moore was another character in our class. I do not know what his real name was. Mr Kelder addressed him as "Archie" (a legendary boxer) and we followed his example. Archie came from Namibia and was an avid backstroke swimmer.

Johnny van Heerden was a colourful and mischievous classmate. He came from Prieska and was an ardent Elvis fan. After completing his studies, he became a popular and respected science teacher. He also died at a relatively young age.

Fanie de Jongh was one of the senior men in our class. The previous year he did another course. He played for Maties centre and later became a professor in history at the University of the Western Cape.

There were also a few English guys in our class. Adrian Noffki was from Wynberg Boys' High. He also died early. And David Berning after his studies at Stellenbosch gave physical education in Cape Town for a long time. Another Englishman, Dorian Goldie, played rugby for Hamiltons. (Doc Craven did not like it at all.) Then there was Mike Streak, another friendly chap. Rein Kelder joined us in our second year. He was not only an ingenious water polo player, but also a skilled driver; which sometimes bordered on recklessness.

The Jokl students of my year were a nice bunch. There was a healthy team spirit – surely because we had to support each other, especially in the sessions. And I needed a lot of support. But I was not alone. One of my classmates, Mike Bronn was slightly better than I, but had no aspirations to be a gymnast. He left us early and later became an ace detective.

Here is an example of our team spirit: One summer morning, we let the staff know that the class has declared the day as a "General Bunk" and we will not be coming for their lectures. Then we all went to Strand. I cannot remember how we all got there. We built pyramids, played games of touch, swam and ate ice cream. And there was no alcohol involved.

We had little contact with the girls in our class. There was no question of mixed practical classes. The only woman who gave us lectures was Dr Isabel Nel (the first woman in South Africa who received a doctorate in physical education). She is definitely one of the legendary scholars in our field and was world famous.

Then there was a young lecturer we simply known as "Katzie". She spent plenty of time in the "green room" where she gave the female classmates dance education. (Prof. Edith Katzenellenbogen later became head of the Department.)

Readers should please forgive me if my memory let me down and if I neglected to mention certain persons or if my reporting is not hundred percent correct. But still vivid in my memory is the beautiful summer morning when we were lined up in dark suits and gowns at the Ou Hoofgebou before we walked to the town hall for the December graduation. What a colourful and meaningful event.

That afternoon I was the proud holder of a BA degree – ready to face the challenges of life.