The power of a flying disc
Deep in the heart of the rolling hills of the Wild Coast, you will find the community of Ginyintsimbi. This beautiful region of the rural Eastern Cape is difficult to get to; the access roads are not well-maintained and infrastructure is generally lacking. But this is also part of the area’s greatest appeal and attracts tourists from all over South Africa and around the world; those travellers looking for rugged adventure, magnificent views and relaxation off the beaten track.
There is also a lot going on at the Wild Coast that is improving the lives of the local people; from non-governmental organisations doing invaluable work to the Zithulele Mission Hospital which provides primary healthcare services for a catchment area of 130 thousand people. And then there is the development of youth through sport. Although soccer is without doubt the most popular sport played here, and touch rugby also has a good following, there is a new kid on the block: Ultimate frisbee.
And Ultimate is certainly taking the Wild Coast by storm. In fact, the local team recently won the Eastern Cape Regional tournament, beating teams from large cities in the province with more experienced players and better resources, such as East London and Port Elizabeth.
The sport is not yet well-known or hugely popular in South Africa (except in the some of the big centres) which makes this particular story all the more fascinating.
Ultimate is a fast-paced, non-contact team game which combines certain similar features to netball, American football, soccer and basketball. And there is no ball; there is a frisbee or disc.
It is played in more than 90 counties, and is the only sport recognised by the International Olympic committee to be self-officiating while promoting something called Spirit of the Game. Players are, therefore, expected to know the rules well and understand the meaning and importance of fair play.
Wild Coast Ultimate (WCU) holds most of its practices on a tennis court on the Zithulele Hospital grounds. Asanda Jonga, who started the WCU team in 2016 after being introduced to the sport by a friend a few years earlier, has also taken on the role of coach.
“We started playing frisbee for fun back in 2011, and the sport has just grown and spread. The hospital is kind enough to let us play there as there are lights at night. The local fields are never available for us to use as soccer is such an important sport in the community,” the 28-year-old says.
Ultimate frisbee is usually played on a grass field the length of a soccer pitch, which makes the hospital tennis court a little small and the surface a little hard. When the team is not practising there, they hit Lubanzi beach where their training is determined by the donkeys and the tides.
Asanda works as an ophthalmic assistant for an NGO providing primary eye care, Grace Vision. She admits that being the WCU coach has its own challenges and difficulties.
“Most of the players I coach come from disadvantaged families. Ultimate is an expensive sport when it comes to getting to and from tournaments, and paying for accommodation,” she explains.
“I have to do most of the administration for the team too, starting from the creation of email accounts, accreditation and fundraising ideas. Although there is lots of help from my team mates, it requires a lot of my personal time.”
WCU boasts dozens of regular players from the age of 12 and up. When representatives from Eastern Cape Ultimate hosted a development clinic at Lubanzi beach in June, 2018, more than 30 players participated.
“That clinic taught us the importance of playing with better structure and how to play against the strategies of opposing teams. Now, the Wild Coast players know I am not just making stuff up!” Asanda says with a giggle.
“Since then, WCU has grown in numbers, skills, fitness and passion in every player. We even won Regionals. That was so exciting for everyone in the team and has attracted more players to the sport and made the (regulars) work even harder.
“We were only able to take the most dedicated and committed players to the tournament because we could only fit 15 people in our hired (minibus) taxi. When we won, it made everyone so proud to see that the hard work paid off. Because we train on such a small space, we had to put in extra training – four days a week - to be fit for the big fields in East London.”
Four of the top WCU players were chosen to represent the Eastern Cape province at the Nationals tournament in May.
Asanda adds that Ultimate is a great development sport because it requires very little equipment and teaches players so many skills; “good communication, honesty, discipline, vulnerability, and having fun while being competitive at the same time”.
“It also brings a little variety to the community. For so long, there was only soccer,” Asanda says.
“The dream is to have more local teams in the Wild Coast and (greater) Transkei area starting up and playing against one another, so that the sport continues to grow. Who knows, perhaps the government will take an interest in this awesome sport one day soon!”
With Asanda Jonga at the helm, anything seems possible.
Who would have thought that a sport which allegedly originated from American students throwing around pie dishes on the college campuses of 1960s USA would eventually make its way to the villages of South Africa’s Wild Coast?