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The Athlete

athletic field KHS 1956
sports day KHS 1956

Krugersdorp was a hamlet of supermen. That’s how I was taught to see the cradle of my youth. Nobody spoke about weaklings or poor athletes. Anything was possible in that little "dorp." Provincial thinking dominated our town; even minute successes in national sports made us proud and even boastful.


When I read about Hercules in the comics, my main source of literature, I thought of him coming from our neighborhood. My friend Morris had an expression for forceful people, "brekers”, an Afrikaans word for mighty men. The black leather lumber jackets we wore were meant to indicate that we belonged to the category of tough guys.


How the information about the celebration in Joburg reached our ears is a mystery. Saturday night arrived, and the guys were excited about gate-crashing an affair in the metropolis. One of our friends had been invited and had shared this information with others.


Nobody knew who was making the function or where. In this case, we cruised the affluent neighborhoods of the big boom town in search of coloured lights, loud music and crowds of motor cars.

When we went to the golden Centre, we were “the chaps from the West.” This referred to an area West of Johannesburg.


One of our gang supplied the means of transport: Allan’s Peugeot 404, Sorrel’s Mini Minor, Raymond’s Fiat 1100 or Austin A30, and Colin’s mother’s Morris Oxford. The best was Hilliard’s Ford Fairlane or Tony’s Studebaker.


Each Saturday night, as we walked into the house in Lower Houghton, I imagined hearing the whisper, “The West Rand Fellows have arrived”.


A feeling of awe rippled through the big city youngsters, who were little fish compared to us. After dancing a bit, we usually achieved our ultimate objective: to “chaff a chick”. After the party, we’d stop at the Milky Way in Hillbrow for a double thick malted milkshake on our way back to the “dorp” as dawn broke.

Our corner of the world prided itself on the famous sports champions it produced. As far as I knew, nothing outstanding to make this place deserving of such an honour had taken place here before my birth.

In my day, the first renowned sportsman whose name came to my ears was Lionel Trope. The republic selected this weightlifter as its representative at one Olympic Games.

After him came Jackie Kahn, also a distinguished weightlifter. Morrie Rosenberg became a popular doctor where we resided, and Lenny Simon lived near me in Burger Str. Both were in the country's water polo line-up. 

Pinky Danilowitz was the world singles bowls champion. 

Training to emulate these heroes of our municipal area went on incessantly. 

None of us made the grade for the top sportsman besides my friend Kenny Resnik who was hooker for the Springboks. 

The time I played with him in the 4th side at KHS, is memorable. 


Our main prospect for achieving fame was Vickie Essakow. Rugby and Cricket were his games, but javelin throwing was his specialty. Springbok colours eluded him.


We all strove to achieve the goal of being considered superb sportsmen. In my opinion, and I think many will agree, Percy Smith was destined for greatness.

The wind couldn't catch him when he was at Krugersdorp Primary School, but things went wrong for him after that, and he never realized his talent. Skinny, his freckled face wore an eternal self-effacing grin making him appear dumb and hiding a burning ambition to win.

Competing was in his blood. A human coil wound to maximum tension at birth and sporadically released, shooting him off like a catapult, only to be tensed again. 

My highly strung friend could never loosen up, not by natural means, anyway. An artificial elixir came to his aid and was his disaster. That remedy, which proved to be a curse, was Marijuana, known in S. Africa as dagga. Inhaling the stuff was an adventurous act in our conservative crowd. People in our village whispered with shocked voices when they mentioned someone was imbibing. The user of this drug was ostracized

People who do things with enthusiasm energize me, as all sportsmen do. My childhood companions were all great sports enthusiasts. The talented scarecrow surpassed the other two. Lennie was a marathoner, a swimmer, and a competent opponent on the court. Kenny was a jogger and a plucky rugby player.

These guys excited me because they engaged in sports. People who pursued honours excited me because I was not like that, ending up as an onlooker. 

My efforts to become a proficient athlete were more strenuous than theirs. Hating the feeling of being left out, I tried one sport after another—swimming, football, rugby, tennis—you name it. 

Forever hoping to be given a chance to participate I tagged along with the team of our Jewish scouts and ended up watching from the edge.

When someone got injured or tired, I got my opportunity, but I always messed it up. The fellows were always happy to have me along at the tennis court so that they could borrow my racket. One of my buddies, Maxi, an able player, felt sorry for me and gave me a turn. 

One of my chums was an exception, Colin. Like me, he was not a capable athlete. He hit the ball with concentration and sharp eyesight, which I always missed. As partners we threw down a challenge to the club stars, like Syd Wolberg and Ian Sher. Winning a few games brought surprised looks from the members of the club. Our enthusiasm carried us through.

An unusual activity, as underwater photographers brought us fame, compensating for our lack of ability. Once the secret that we didn't have a camera got out, the illusion fell apart, and we reverted to our poor sportsman status.


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