All eyes were on the youth participants of the 11th Mitchell’s Plain SAPS Marching and Drill Competition on Saturday October 13, held at Stephen Reagon sportsfield in Westridge, as they carried out riveting displays in the different categories.
About 3500 spectators cheered for the 19 schools, which included schools from Mitchell’s Plain, Elsies River, Vredendal and the Eastern and Southern Cape, and the community drill squads.
The competition, which is hosted by SAPS and Midea Events in conjunction with the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF) and its affiliates, neighbourhood watches and the Plainsman, was attended by 48 police station commanders from across the country.
Tears were rolling when Westville Primary School in Westridge and Elsies River High School were announced as overall winners. It is Westville Primary School’s first win since they started competing in the competition in 2014. Last year they were placed third and in 2016 they were runners-up.
“It was hard work and there were tears… very overwhelming for all of us,” said Paul Naidoo, the manager of Westville’s 32-member drilling squad. Mr Naidoo and Nazleen Benjamin manage the team with coach Paul Davey.
They practise every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and some holidays.
Mr Naidoo said their message to the squad was to stay disciplined and focused. He said the pupils’ academics improved and they had a more positive outlook on life.
Westville Primary pupil Chelsea Saaiman, 13, said it was a nice experience when they won.
“Being part of the squad) disciplined me, kept me from doing bad things and kept me motivated. We try to get as much pupils to join each year,” she said.
Mr Naidoo and his wife have also started the Visionaries community squad who participated in the competition for the first time this year. Although they only had 25 hours practice time, they won the award for the best newcomer this year.
Tara Abrahams, 14, from Portland said being part of the squad is the best feeling in the world”.
“When you’re part of this team you feel accepted. We give hope to the hopeless as we try to move away from gangsterism and crime. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything,” said Tara
Elsies River High School has been on a winning streak since 2013; winning the high school category of the competition that year as well as the following year, being runners-up in 2015 and 2016 and winning the competition again last year.
“We practised really hard – Monday through Thursdays, Saturdays and holidays,” said William Walters, one of the managers of the drill squad. “Everyone at the school who wanted to participated were welcome, we did not turn anyone away. We had 400 cadets in the beginning and ended with 60.”
He said while there were those who would not like the discipline, this sport helped pupils to change their attitude towards life.
Tashan Julias, a former cadet from Elsies River High School, said their pupils were more committed to their academics and they were more punctual.
“We try to make them understand what is needed of them in this team. Sometimes they do this to get away from home but over time they mature and see the results of their hard work. Our parents have always committed to this programme and support it for their children,” said Mr Walters.
Abie Isaacs, chairperson of the CPF, told the Plainsman yesterday Tuesday October 16, that the programme would be rolled out to Gauteng.
Following the competition, the local organising committee (LOC), including the CPF and its affiliated organisations, and members of the Eastern Cape competition’s LOC met on Sunday October 14 to debrief and agreed to write a rule book that could be usedwhereever the competition was held.
They will meet next year again for a joint workshop in Mossel Bay.
“The police station commanders who were present at Saturday’s competition are eager to roll out the project in their respective areas,” Mr Isaacs said.
He thanked all the volunteers, SAPS, the participants and sponsors for ensuring the success of this year’s event. He said they were already planning the 12th edition of the competition for next year.
Captain Ian Williams, Mitchell’s Plain police station spokesperson, said no serious incidents had been reported during Saturday’s event. “There were some participants needing hydration but they were seen to,” he said.
Captain Williams said liquor was confiscated at the gate, which kept the event weapon, drug and alcohol-free.
The top three primary and high school winners will compete in the Eastern Cape competition next year.
The top three overall winners in the primary school category were Westville Primary, Harvester Primary and Liesbeeck Primary; while in the high school category Elsies River High, Spine Road High and Chapman High School from Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth finished tops.
Harvester Primary and Elsies River High won the award for best dress; Westville Primary and Elsies River High for grand march; Harvester Primary and Spine Road High won the drum major category; Liesbeeck Primary and The Craggs from Plettenberg Bay won the exhibition category; Hazeldene Primary and the Visionaries community team won the best newcomer category while Spine Road High, Chapman High and Vredendal Griffons community team were the top three in the drum battle.