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School CP - March 2005
Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 27 March 2005
Ghosts of sporting greats adorn Bloem's Grey College
By David Isaacson
HISTORY drips down the walls of Grey College in Bloemfontein. Quite literally.
In the assembly hall, cabinets on the walls are filled with the national colours achieved by past pupils, from the cricket gear of South African captains Hansie Cronjé and Kepler Wessels to rugby jerseys worn by Springbok captain Morné du Plessis and even Louis Babrow, whose 1937 teammates are to date the only Springbok side to boast a Test series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Some of Ryk Neethling's swimming costumes are there too.
There is also a roll of the academically inclined, such as Albert Hertzog, the founder of the right-wing Herstigtige Nasionale Party, who matriculated in 1916, and Communist Party activist Bram Fischer in 1925. Fischer, who defended Nelson Mandela and others in the Rivonia Trial, and JNC de Villiers, a future judge president of the Free State, won the provincial doubles tennis title in 1925.
Acclaimed author Laurens van der Post played for the 1924 first XV.
Each day, the nearly 1200 pupils are bombarded by the achievements of their predecessors; it's little wonder then that this school -- which is celebrating its 150th anniversary (activities include a schools' rugby festival starting on Thursday) -- motivates itself to remain one of the leading institutions in the country.
Then again, headmaster Johan Volsteedt wouldn't let them forget it.
The man is an encyclopaedia on the history of the school and its pupils. He will tell you that at school, Morné du Plessis was a better cricketer than rugby player. He wanted to play flyhalf at under-14, but coach Stonie Steenkamp told him to find another position because he already had the future Bok flyhalf -- Dawie Snyman.
Volsteedt recounts how Grey's second rugby team came to be called the Cherries during a cold winter's trip to Brandfort in 1946. While the masters were still at the hotel, the players decided to warm themselves up with a bottle of cherry liqueur.
On Volsteedt's desk is a jar of sweets, which he would give to pupils after caning them. Since corporal punishment is now banned, he offers them to homesick learners and to past pupils when they pop in for visits.
On a wall in his office is a photograph of himself with Wessels and Cronjé, taken at Lords when SA played England in 1994. Cronjé had promised to fly him there if he ever played at Lords, and kept his word.
Honour and integrity are part of Grey's ethos, points out Volsteedt. The pupils themselves drew up a five-point code of honour, which replaced the school's multitude of rules.
"It's about loyalty to the school, to the team. You don't drop your teammates."
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