Heather Martin recalls wondering if she should be brave enough to introduce something new at Pinetown Girls High.
As a teacher, she needed to get involved in school sport and had helped with basketball and volleyball but her heart really was in the sport she played regularly – Ultimate Frisbee.
She had concerns – “What if I don’t have enough time to run the sport properly and be at all the practices? What if there is no interest or practices are badly attended?” But, it was time to take the plunge and gauge the interest. “Even if only a few girls wanted to start Frisbee at least I would have someone to throw with,” she thought.
One morning after assembly she threw a Frisbee disc off the school stage into the crowd and waited to see what the response was going to be. The next week, she called an interest meeting and was very pleasantly surprised when there was barely enough space for all those keen to fit into her classroom!
When 30 players turned up for the first practice, she realised she would need help to coach that many and approached Dale Franklin to assist her. “He was my saving grace. Such a likeable guy who is super friendly and loves Frisbee.” Quickly, he formed a good relationship with the girls, being strict so that they respected him from the start. Heather remembers on one occasion – the girls were taking their time to get ready. When they got to the field (20 minutes late) Dale gave them a pep talk and promptly left! Needless to say they were never late for a practice again. Dale instilled a lot of discipline at the practices – the girls learnt how to throw correctly and they started each practice with a proper warm-up which involved yoga and stretching. They learnt specific skills like cutting, defence and how to beat their mark.
Heather was thrilled at how keen the girls were. “One afternoon it was bitterly cold, with a chilly wind that went right through your clothes. I didn’t expect anyone to show up. Then, two super-committed girls wandered down the drive way all kitted up, so keen to play that I didn’t have the heart to cancel the practice. In fact, I always found it worthwhile to run practices whether it was for 2 girls or for 30!” It certainly paid off for the two girls who got lots of individual attention, and much more chance to handle the disc and make throws that they weren’t used to making.
There are plenty of highlights during the six years she coached. Some of Heather’s favourite moments have been matches against Durban Girls’ High School (DGHS) – particularly because their first game was the first ever high school girls Frisbee match in Africa ever! Heather remembers “It was awesome. Some of the male players from Durban Ultimate Frisbee came to support us and to take photos. The Durban Girls became our ‘friendly rivals’ and we always looked forward to matches against them.” After losing their first match horribly, Pinetown High improved fast and finished a close second place against DGHS just one year later. Heather smiles “It was awesome to see the competitive spirit come out before and during the game and then afterwards they huddled up with the Durban girls like a bunch of friends hanging out, it was a lovely contrast.” This is one of the great things about Ultimate Frisbee – while it is competitive, it also brings out camaraderie, friendship and positive regard. The Spirit of the Game is the foundation of the game, based on respect for other players, fair play and knowledge of the rules.
Another delightful moment that Heather recalls was the match they played against Roseway Waldorf – a co-ed school. This meant that their team consisted of boys and girls. The Pinetown girls certainly didn’t shy away from marking up against the boys, in fact they relished it. When they were given the option to have a few Durban male players marking the Waldorf boys, the girls opted to mark the boys themselves and they managed to hold their own.
Heather’s brave step to introduce the sport and dedicate time to coaching at Pinetown bore a lot of fruit – some girls played at their first ever tournament Rocktober in Durban 2012, followed by Rocktober in Jo’burg 2015, and the Women’s Nationals at Glenwood Boys High School in 2016. “The girls thoroughly enjoyed these tournaments and got a chance to step up and make some big plays. I will never forget Rachel (15 years old) getting a defence (hitting the disc down to cause a turnover) on three or four occasions in our game against Jo’burg ladies. I also remember Taliyah scoring our one and only point against a stacked Cape Town ladies team. I had subbed off the field because I had cut my hand, and when I came back I saw her catch a disc in the end zone with a lot of players nearby her and our entire team jumping around in celebration. I thought it was fantastic that a younger and less experiences player had contributed significantly against women twice her age!”
Many of the schoolgirls have achieved full colours and half colours for playing the sport. Heather believes that it is important that they get recognition for playing at National and Provincial level as they put in the training time and deserve to be recognised. At National Tournaments, they mostly have to play against adults which is a challenge for teenagers. This does mean though that by the time they reach leave school they have developed into good players and are showing potential.
Heather asked some of the girls why they play Frisbee and was so pleased with their responses: we make friends; we get fit; we have the opportunity to play sport without being excluded because we aren’t good enough for the first team; we find Frisbee relaxing. 15 year old, Taliyah Ottino recounts “At first I didn’t have the slightest clue of what was going on. My first game was at the end 2015. By then I had grasped the basics, but seeing well skilled players made me really nervous and scared. I met such encouraging people who helped me through my mistakes and taught me so much more. Frisbee is such an amazing sport! My goal is to make it internationally. With lots of practice and commitment I believe I can make my dream came true.”
Nosipho Ndlovu enjoyes the fact that Ultimate Frisbee is a free spirited sport that accommodates diversity and includes everyone. “In my few years of playing Frisbee I’ve learnt that sport isn’t just about competition, it’s about contentment and enjoyment. I feel happy when I play, I feel encouraged and accepted.” She enjoys the group huddle afterward where all team members analyse the game and offer advice.
There are fantastic opportunities for young people who choose to play ultimate Frisbee. SAFDA has just announced the U24 training squad going to the World Championships. Naturally, some of the Durban girls are in that team.
Heather concludes, “Looking back, I am glad that I made the decision to coach school Frisbee. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience. A rare opportunity to watch the girls play in matches and to see them succeed, make friends and grow in confidence. Ultimate Frisbee is definitely a valuable experience that we need to extend to as many young people as we can.”
The Mixed National Ultimate Frisbee Tournament will be held at Karkloof Country Club from 29 April to 1 May. Go along and check out the action for yourself.