Grey College is to this City of Roses what Shardashram Vidyamandir is to Mumbai. Some of South Africa’s finest cricketers have learnt the basics of the game in this English and Afrikaans-speaking school for boys.
Kepler Wessels, Nicky Boje, Boeta Dippenaar, Victor Mpitsang and Morne van Wyk, the list is impressive, but the native of Bloemfontein will always remember this as the platform where the late Hansie Cronje developed his interest in cricket.
While the school still believes his involvement with match-fixing was an unpardonable offence, more than a thousand mourners filled the school chapel for Cronje’s funeral. “He was one of us, is one of us and will be one of us. We condemn his deed and not the man,” said Johan Volsteedt, school headmaster-cum cricket coach who groomed Wessels and Cronje.
The former South Africa skipper’s name figures prominently in most of the roll-of-honour boards. “There were talks to remove his name from all the boards for his involvement in match-fixing. But we decided not to have anything of that sort. We can never condone what he has done. But we don’t throw him away,” Volsteedt added.
This 154-year-old school has produced 148 international sportsmen, although, getting admission is difficult. “The most important factor is the excellent gym with sports biomechanists and sports scientists,” he said.
Having been headmaster for long, Volsteedt now has anecdotes in abundance, especially of Wessels and Cronje.
“Kepler was good at tennis too. But I wanted him to play cricket. As a five-year-old, he said he would play for South Africa. He played first for Australia in Tests during apartheid and then for South Africa,” Volsteedt said.
Cronje captained the school’s first rugby team in 1987. “He captained the Free State schools team and Under-21 before choosing cricket,” Volsteedt said.
“When Hansie was at school, he promised that if he ever plays at Lord’s, he would have me watch it. During South Africa’s tour of England in 1994, Hansie flew me over there for the Test,” Volsteedt said.
Asked about the secret behind producing successful sportsmen, Volsteedt said: “The boys are loyal, not to themselves, not to their parents but to the school first. There is a very strong urge in every group to get better than the previous year.”