8 October, 2016
You could say that water polo was somewhat of a family tradition for Brett Foster. Originally from South Africa, Brett’s grandfather Richard was known as Rhodesia’s “Mr Water Polo” and represented the nation 102 times (capped — he also excelled in swimming and rugby and was recognised as a “legend in his own lifetime”).
Brett’s father Des had played 132 international games before retiring, and his uncle Peter also represented Rhodesia, before going on to claim the South African heavyweight boxing title. Brett’s brother Lloyd has represented the Northern Territory in water polo and Brett himself has played his whole life, and now coaches when he’s not working away.
While water polo in South Africa has been dated back to the 19th century, there was not always a formal inter-provincial tournament in this country.
Each province started off on their own, with impromptu games taking place between boy’s schools after the weekly inter-schools galas, and these games can be traced back to the middle of the 20th century. While there was a fair amount of competition between the schools, not too many competed due to the long held belief that water polo would affect swimmers strokes. It was in 1970 however that Rodney Mazinter proposed the creation of a formal schools league in the Western Province, and things kicked off locally, spreading to the other provinces.
In 1970, at the Annual General Meeting for the South African Amateur Swimming Union (SAASU), Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe today, was the first group to propose the creation of an inter-provincial tournament similar to Craven Week for rugby. While the proposal was accepted by the board, the task to plan this was given to Rhodesia, but nothing happened for another three years, when Mike Mortimer made another proposal in a report for SA swimming Annual.
It was when Jannie Storm and Johan Terblanche got together though that we saw the creation of the precursor of what we know today as the SA Schools Inter Provincial Tournament. This first tournament was held in Potchefstroom in 1971, but was a far smaller affair to what we know today. Only three provinces attended (Transvaal, KZN and Western Transvaal). In the coming years, more provinces joined this event; however Western Transvaal never made any further appearance at these events. It was only in 1974 when the event evolved into the structure we know today, with multiple playing days, that saw things grow even more. Despite having made the initial proposal for this type of event, Rhodesia only joined in 1974, which meant the tournament consisted of U19 boys’ teams from Transvaal, Natal, Eastern & Northern Transvaal, Eastern Province and Rhodesia.
In 1976, it was decided that three selectors would be picked to choose the SA Schools team – although there was no guarantee that the selected team would play any matches together unless he hosting province could find any suitable opposition. The tournament continued like this, and in 1976 the Orange Free State joined, followed by Western Province in 1978.
In 1975, when Natal came out victorious, Rhodesia promised to have a far stronger side the following year. When the tournament came around, a strong Rhodesian side arrived at the Wits pool in Johannesburg. Once the traveling team had shown their strength by defeating all of the provinces, a mini test series was played against the selected SA Schools Team, and with the top players pulling together and playing well, Rhodesia suffered their first defeat of the tournament. This post-tournament event continued up until 1980, when the then Zimbabwe schools team played a SA Schools B team. However, after a shift in political climate in Zimbabwe, their teams would not return again until 1993.
As a filler to this, the SA Schools board decided to play against a SA Defence Force U19 team, however it was felt that this did not fit the event, and so was stopped in its very first year. Over time, there was an attempt to include both South West Africa (Namibia) and Griqualand West, however these sides fitted better into a B league, and soon they stopped attending the events. It was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s however that we saw a boom in the tournament, and the growth to what we have today. As the years went on, more and more teams were added, until we saw age groups from U13 – U19 for both boys and girls!