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Alumnus profile: Rory Townsend

Author: Barefoot Teacher (commissioned agent)

As part of the Homecoming 60th anniversary celebrations, UWC looks back at transformation in sport over the past few decades. Rory Townsend’s story is one of perseverance in the development of Hockey at the University.

(Published - 17 November 2020)

The University of the Western Cape has an amazing 60-year history of sports development and has invested significant resources in its facilities, including a multi-purpose stadium and athletics track, cricket oval, tennis and squash courts and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

While UWC Sport officially recognises 22 sporting codes today, including field hockey, alumnus Rory Townsend (BChD, 1985) recalls hockey had something of a Cinderella status at UWC. Until 1970, it wasn’t even played at UWC.

But in Port Elizabeth, where Rory grew up, hockey was a popular sport that had been played in organised teams since the 1940s. Rory’s older brothers played and his mother had played at Eastern Province level. According to Rory, who played for various club sides, as well as for his school and the EP senior schools side, the sport was played at a high standard and was fiercely competitive, despite limited facilities.

Rory vividly remembers evening practices on a poorly-lit field. “We had three or four poles that were up and we hopefully would get half an hour [of light]. I think that’s where our skills came in because you would only see the ball when it comes within two metres of you and your reflexes had to be that good!” 

One of the strongest P.E. clubs was Cavaliers, and three Cavaliers players, Tyrone Histroth, Vernon Malgas and Garth Cuddembey were among the pioneers who started UWC hockey in the early 1970s. By the time Rory played in the 1980s, many of his UWC teammates were from the non-racial hockey strongholds of Port Elizabeth, East London and Kimberley.

League games were played on two fields at Clover Crescent next to Athlone Stadium, literally across the road from a row of council houses where some residents would watch from their front yards. In his third year of studies in 1982, he played for the SACOS Eleven (alongside UWC teammate Gary Dolley and Gary’s brother Richard, who was at Pentech) against the SACOS President’s Eleven in the first SACOS Sports Festival at Athlone Stadium, the biggest showcase of anti-apartheid sport held up to that point.

When the non-racial sports body decided in principle that members could not accept government sponsorship in any form, including through UWC, the players moved off campus and formed the LADS team, rather than break solidarity with SACOS. They returned to UWC around 1984 after SACOS acknowledged UWC’s anti-apartheid role and relaxed the rule.

“At that stage, a lot of the LADS players left because they were not at the University. There was a re-energising to get more students to play hockey again,” says Rory. 

Along with being named SA hockey player of the year, the SACOS festivals were the formal highlights of his playing career, but the real highlights, Rory says, were the lasting friendships he made and the satisfaction of seeing the sport develop among the youth.

After 25 years in dentistry, Rory switched careers to start a digital media business, which he runs from home in Cape Town. He is married to alumna Liesl Townsend (BA Social Work, 1987) who works as a health consultant in the insurance industry.

On Friday, 27 November 2020, the Alumni Office in conjunction with UWC Donor Relations will be hosting a webinar entitled “University Sport, The Heritage of South Africa – Investing in transformation” as part of the Homecoming 60th anniversary celebrations. 

To register for this webinar, click here (http://bit.ly/UWCHC_Sport

For more information about the Homecoming virtual celebration and to view the programme, click here (https://www.uwc.ac.za/Events/Pages/UWC-Alumni-Homecoming-virtual-celebration-.aspx)

 

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