Astro a dream come true

Pride epitomised! Mr Braam van Wyk, headmaster of St Michael’s, takes his first official steps onto the new astro turf. Photo Charles Whitehead Photography

PHEMELO RADIKELEDI

ST MICHAEL’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS has just become the proud owner of a magnificent full-service water-based astro turf. The recent opening of only the fourth turf of its kind in Bloemfontein was a milestone for hockey at the school. The turf boasts fabulous floodlights and an electronic scoreboard that was sponsored by the University of the Free State.

At the opening ceremony, facilitated by Dr Johan Cromhout, Father Trewern dedicated the turf to the Lord. In his address, Mr Braam van Wyk, with whom the idea to build an astro originated, expressed the hope that the astro will continue to be a source of positive energy for the school.

Dr Cromhout reminded the audience that hockey was introduced as a substitution for cricket . The first hockey match at St Michael’s was played in September 1906 and cricket was discontinued in 1923. The original hockey fields of the school were situated where The Waterfront’s parking lot is now.

Opening-day games were played between parents and teachers, Saints and Grey College and the First Team and Old Girls, amongst others. The depth of St Michael’s hockey was reflected by the fact that four pairs of sisters played against each other: Robyn and Jada Gordon; Phemelo and Phela Radikeledi; Gabriella and Taryn Marais and Kaylen and Shindre-Lee Simmons.

According to Mr Van Wyk the turf will first of all ignite learners’ interest in hockey from a very young age. Years of practice on the water-covered surface will ensure excellent skills when the girls start playing competitively in high school. Secondly, matches can now be played on home-ground, where players will enjoy the enthusiastic support of fellow-learners and parents. Furthermore, the time wasted travelling to and from the UFS turf can now be invested in practising.

Finally, the astro will be managed as an income-generating asset. It was decided to construct a water-based instead of a sand-based astro turf because this type of turf is the top specification surface for hockey and is used for international and Olympic competitions. The dense pile and the water help to reduce friction on the surface which makes a dimpled hockey ball move faster and more smoothly. On a dry surface, players often have to deal with bouncing balls which might cause injuries. Only water-based surfaces are used for provincial and international tournaments and contracts have already been signed with role-players like SA Hockey and the University of the Free State.

In 2018 a sub-committee of Board members was established after the idea of investing in an astro turf for the school had been approved. Mr Esmond Hartnick, a parent of the school and a member of the sub-committee, was appointed as the project manager. Mr Hartnick, who is a fleet manager at SASA, spent many hours planning, negotiating, and controlling the quality of the service rendered and ensuring that deadlines were met. The fact that he comes from a family of hockey lovers and sports enthusiasts, motivated him to invest so much of his time and energy in the project. He says that the project was a valuable experience and has contributed to his personal growth.

The task of building the astro was assigned to the Trompie Group. The work took seven months to complete. Mr Hartnick attributes the prompt completion of the project to the professionalism of the company that specialises in the creation of artificial surfaces.