The best players in the province will be in action in the five regional tournaments of the annual SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge, which starts this weekend and culminates in May.
National tournament director Les Galloway said they had introduced a slight change this year to allow them to raise the profile of the regionals.
The event has been a regular on the schools hockey calendar since its inception in 2016, being derailed only by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
In previous years, the winners of the regional tournaments qualified for the provincial finals, but Galloway said they had done away with that tournament this year.
“There are various reasons for that decision and one of them is that we would like to raise the profile of the regionals instead of spending a big part of the budget on the provincial finals,” she explained.
“The whole vision of the Challenge is to reach as many schools as possible in all areas and we are very close to achieving that. It is exciting and it shows that schoolgirls’ hockey is alive and well.”
Galloway added that this change would allow them to raise the status of the regional events and therefore create an even bigger incentive for schools to sign up.
“Rather than just focusing on the provincial finalists, which covers just five schools, we want to provide a memorable experience at all the tournaments, in which up to 50 schools can be involved.
“We had a long discussion with SPAR and came up with this decision because, really, the regionals are what it is all about and we want to reach all corners of the Eastern Cape to give everyone an opportunity.”
She cited the case of Umtata High School who debuted in the competition last year when they competed in the East London Inland tournament in Queenstown.
“They put their hands up and it was so good to be able to include them as this is exactly what we are trying to achieve.”
Another factor in streamlining the competition was the full calendar many schools had with their traditional derby days and interschool fixtures, said Galloway.
“The Challenge is still very high on the schools’ programmes, but we work closely with them because we understand their commitments and it does lead to a challenge sometimes to arrange dates.
“It is a prestigious event that has built traction over the years,” according to her. “So now you have pupils who were in Grade 8 or 9 a few years ago, watching from the sidelines, looking forward to competing.”
“That’s obviously important for us as it provides greater exposure for all players.”
Galloway said a number of participants over the years had gone on to higher honours.
The first tournament is hosted by Union High in Graaff-Reinet on Sunday.
March 5: Union High, Graaff-Reinet
March 26: Victoria Park High, Gqeberha
May 6: Oakhill High, Knysna
May 14: Stirling High, East London
May 21: Queenstown Girls’ High Queenstown