5 Koot Nieman rugby stars in FS

In front is Tshepo Nopothe, with Simpiwe Ngeno, Raseate Seleteng, Lee-Yagin Arendse and Mahlali Nomandla at the back

If one of your rugby youngsters makes the Free State team, it’s a huge achievement. If no less than five of your U13 team players make the team, it’s really sensational. If, however, those U13 players come from a school with one of the most underprivileged learners in Bloemfontein, it becomes a miracle.

On the other hand, you can also attribute it to the unbelievable commitment, hard work, determination and faith of Johnny Barnard, grade 5, 6 en 7 teacher and rugby coach (as well as head of rugby) of Koot Nieman Primary School.

Johnny Barnard

What is really amazing, is that one of the U13 players who made the Free State A-team, is Lee-Yagin Arendse, who only started playing rugby this year. Another player, Raseate Seleteng, who played for the U12 Craven Week last year, made the Free State B-team, while Mihlali Nomandla, Simpiwe Ngeno and Tsepho Nopothe made the Free State C-team.

The Free State A-team, the only team that play in the Craven Week, is currently touring.
To overcome the desperate conditions children are facing just to get to school Barnard said, “Our kids don’t have it easy. Especially these five learners – they have really been facing difficulties.” Barnard explained how many of the parents did not have the required fees for the rugby tours and how he, with the assistance of the school, worked hard to gather funds and organise sponsors for the team.

To collect funds is no joke. Barnard simply went ahead, spending time and taking extra trouble. He said he decided to make the sacrifice and go ahead. “The time put into these kids is unbelievable, because you have to teach them how to play rugby from scratch. Many of them do not grow up with a rugby culture in their communities or at home.

This means they do not know anything about rugby,” he said. This meant Barnard had to put in so much more, making his achievement even more extraordinary. He explained how much hard work he had put into Lee-Yagin Arendse especially, how he trained him during every break, just to make up for his backlog. And now… imagine… Arendse is playing for the Free State A-team.

Vernon Baumann