During 2016 I met some very special people in my travels as a rugby lover. I stumbled onto the LSEN Craven Week being hosted at Affies after a friend requested me to attend the event. Before driving to Affies I googled "LSEN" and learned it is the abbreviation for "Learners with Special Educational Needs" and thought to myself, mmmm this should be fun.
An hour after my arrival I was hooked by this event. I was met with open arms by all involved. The president Joshua, still do not know his surname, the coaches, parents and especially the boys all very helpful and excited to share their story. Their "story" was their love for rugby, the passion for a game that will never die in a million years.
I later wrote an article regarding the "health of the Craven Week" the following in a letter addressed to Doc Danie Craven - "Doc I want to apologise for what we are doing to your tournament and sport. Doc myself part of this mad circus, I apologise. But Doc I want to invite you to a game at 08h00 tomorrow Doc. Doc the LSEN national team is playing the Blue Valke. Doc this LSEN boytjies is still playing the game your way. Doc they do not play rugby Doc, hulle jol ruggas. Hope to see you there Doc."
The past four years I had the absolute pleasure to be part of this LSEN community where class, education nor money is part of the acceptance criteria. I had the pleasure to meet wonderful characters who made me laugh every time we met. I had the pleasure to meet people who asked me questions that no intellectual can answer, and I still struggle to answer some of it myself today. I had the pleasure to meet people who care for others without demanding a thank you. I had the pleasure to meet people who taught me to enjoy life in the simplest of ways.
2019 was supposed to mark a new chapter in the history of the LSEN boys as they had a second team invited to the u/18 Academy Week due to the withdrawal of a Kenia invitational side. Everybody involved was excited about the acknowledgement but realised that although their SA LSEN team always was very competitive at the Academy Week the "B" team will struggle in their first year.
On Tuesday the LSEN XV was beaten by Griquas CD 45-33 in a physical but entertaining game but was hammered on Thursday by Griffons CD 59-7 in a one-sided game. The SA LSEN team was hammered on Tuesday with 15-52 by the Pumas Academy team but came back on Thursday to beat Griquas CD 36-29 in a very tense game that was only won in the dying minutes of the game.
Big was the surprise when the fixtures were released for the final day and the SA LSEN and LSEN XV were to play each other in their final match of the Academy Week. I could not understand how anybody could disrespect the efforts by LSEN to allow this to happen.
Definitely, in a bad mood, myself and Jorrie walked the "20 kilometres" to the Grey C field to watch our "boykies" play and was met by a group of people who shared my views and mood regarding this final game. When greeting the players one boy asked me "Sir, why can't we play against the normal boys?" and I could only smile and walk away.
The match started in a sombre mood but it did not take the boys a long time to start enjoying what they loved most, to play rugby. A great matched followed with 30 boys giving their best on the field while those next to the field enjoyed the brilliance showed by their mates on the field. The mistakes on the field, let's just say they were enjoyed even more.
The supporters next to the field were a bit confusing as all supported "LSEN", and I could not determine who supported who. SA LSEN won the game 50-22 with one or two boys from LSEN XV definately asking some questions regarding the selections.
I organised an interview with a spokesperson of the SA Schools Rugby Association (SASRA) to try and understand the reasoning behind the match I just watched. He told me that all teams are ranked according to a formula which is then used to decide on the fixtures and there was no malice in the decision.
I referred to a discussion I had with a person from the management of Western Province who confirmed to me on Tuesday that they will not allow their Craven Week team to play their WP XV team in the final of the Craven Week even if they were the only two unbeaten teams.
I was promised that if the two teams of Western Province were ranked one and two before the final day, they would have played each other. The spokesperson of SASRA further confirmed that he was not part of the committee who determined the fixtures but agreed that the "situation" could have been handled in a different manner.
His final remark made me think. He asked if I saw how the boys enjoyed themselves on and next to the field during the match. It did not look if they were even bothered to play each other. I did not get the feeling that this gentleman was sarcastic in any manner but ...........