Bloemfontein plays host to the Bloemfontein Junior Squash Open, one of the five largest squash tournaments in the world, from Friday to Sunday. With an entry of 525 children, every single squash court in the city must be used to complete the event in just two-and-a-half days.
It’s a hugely important tournament on the South African squash calendar, one of just three national selection tournaments for junior players, and the driving force behind it for the past 25 years, along with Saint Andrew’s coach Calvin Deutschmann, has been Margo Morgan, a teacher at Saints, who, like Deutschmann, is also a national boys’ selector.
“It started small, with about 120 players, and then people wanted a central location, and so they made it a national qualifier for the All Africa Squash Championships. It grew from there and then became an SA Schools qualifier,” she explained on Wednesday.
“It’s the first of three SA Schools qualifying events, so everybody wants to try and qualify to get a top 10 ranking. That’s why it is so big.
“The other reason why is because it is also a Free State provincial selection tournament, so there is a lot at stake for the Free State players, and there is also a lot at stake for those who are vying for national positions or selections, and for the World Junior Championships.”
The event is recognised for being exceptionally well run. It takes an experienced and hard-working team to get the logistics right, especially with the tournament being spread throughout the city.
“People come because they know they’re going to get enough squash, and they know they’re going to get competitive squash,” Morgan said, adding that each child is guaranteed four to five matches, compared to a minimum of three at other events.
“We have Dunlop as a primary sponsor. They sponsor product as prizes and some of the balls too. The wage bill requires 25 people for the weekend. There are big costs involved. You also have to rent all the courts from the clubs. We have to get the courts into a playing state, so if they have to be fixed, we have to sort it out.” The city and its businesses also benefit from the influx of players and supporters from around the country.
Morgan says top South African squash players have in recent years received scholarships from, among others, Harvard, Columbia and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. “They have become more aware of the talent in South Africa because Calvin [Deutschmann] has networked a lot. They hold him in high regard,” she explained.
“When kids inquire about the possibilities of scholarships, they phone Calvin. He’s on another level in terms of knowing these kids nationally. When it comes to knowing a kid’s true ability and character and whether that player is going to stick it out or not, he’s got a good gut feeling.”
She expects the competition in the boys’ under-19 section of the Bloemfontein Open to be exceptionally strong and to produce some exciting squash.
The top 16 boys in the under-19 and under-16 age groups and the top 10 in the under-14 age group will be in action at Saint Andrew’s, which will allow the national selectors to keep a close eye on them. Eunice will play host to the top under-19 and under-16 girls, while Old Greys, which is a short distance from Eunice, will host the top under-14 girls.
A total of about 1 300 matches will take place. The competition starts from 11:30 on Friday and continues until 22:00 that evening. On Saturday, play runs from 08:00 to 20:00, and on Sunday it takes place from 08:00 to 13:00, after which the prize-giving ceremony will be. – BRAD MORGAN / SAINT ANDREWS