About 50 metres south of Moneymen club lies a pitch which has the capability to host various sports events. I am told it was constructed to be the sports ground for Zingwangwa Secondary School.
It currently lies in an unkempt state. Apart from being used as a football pitch by some social clubs, a number of people use it for jogging and for taking driving lessons, especially in the morning. I noticed that those who constructed the pitch went to some length to indicate its perimeter by laying down small concrete blocks. These blocks are visible in some areas but in most areas they lie buried under some heavy silt.
It is obvious that the original intention was to create a pitch that would not just be used for football but also for athletics: for events such as 100 400 metre races, relay race, high jump, long jump, among others. Such sports disciplines are now extinct in our schools. Little wonder that the Zingwangwa pitch is in the state in which it is.
When I went to school in the 1970s, schools would vigorously compete against each other in athletics. I was not a particularly good athlete but I enjoyed participating in some events. These sports events simply captured my imagination.
No money was needed to get people to do athletics. For high jump and long jump, for example, all we needed to do was dig up a small portion of the pitch, a rectangle of about three metres by two, and fill it with saw dust so that as the athlete landed, they would be hitting soft ground. I and other boys living at Nkhoma Mission were so fascinated by high jump that outside school hours we would play a game we called mau mau. We would plant two long sticks into the high jump rectangle, having left some leafstalks intact on the sticks. These sticks, which were cut from shoots of a tree locally known as azitona, a species of Cinderella, were placed a metre or so apart. Then a long piece of grass would be placed on the sticks as a cross bar, held by the leafstalks.
Everybody would be made to jump before the grass was shifted to a higher level. If anybody failed to jump over the cross bar at any level, those that had successfully managed to jump would each give him a smack. That was mau mau.
For pole vault, we would use a long bamboo pole to jump over the cross bar. The bamboo was obviously not very effective as it lacked the spring action that is so vital to toss the athlete over the cross bar in pole vault. It was, nevertheless, a cheap way to improvise the athletic discipline.
I do not think that athletics would require any more money now than it did in the 1970s. There simply is no will to re-introduce it.
Some teacher once told me that they only concentrated on examinable subjects. What a fallacy this is! Fallacy because, on the face of it, one would be tempted to think that the pupils of today would be superstars in examinations. Nothing can be further from the truth. A standard 8 pupil of 1975 would be light years ahead of his/her counterpart of today in terms of knowledge. When I was in standard 8 I used to know the capital cities of most of the countries in the world. You would be lucky today if a standard 8 pupil would tell you the capital cities of the countries in SADC.
Motor skills in children are vital for their education. Pupils with developed motor skills concentrate better on their learning than do those with poor motor coordination. Researchers have found out that pupils involved in sports develop their motor skills better than those who do not. Little wonder that one of the most competitive scholarships in the British Commonwealth, the Rhodes Scholarship, places so much emphasis on sports. One of the four criteria for qualification for Rhodes Scholarship is stated as follows: “Energy to use one’s talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports.”
We only need to search within our communities to discover what we can do to re-introduce athletics in our schools without any need for a huge outlay of money. n