From rock bottom to rookie-of-the-year

Mitchell’s Plain Cricket Club’s Dane Isaacs, pictured here with the club’s first team bowler Ra’ees Sylvester, has been named the Western Province Cricket Umpires Association’s rookie-of-the year.

The Western Province Cricket Umpires Association’s rookie-of-the-year, Dane Isaacs, 34, a member of Mitchell’s Plain Cricket Club, says the award bears testimony to hard work and a love for the game that ultimately saved him from a life on the streets.

The accolade, bestowed upon him at the association’s awards presentation, at Newlands, a fortnight ago, follows another honour given to him when he was named umpire of the month in December, in only his first season as a match official.

He says he decided to become an umpire after an ankle injury brought his days as a player to an end.

“The doctor said I won’t be able to run again and I was looking for a way to continue to be involved in the game. What better way to be involved with the game than to take the field with the players,” he said.

A member of MPCC since the age of seven, things went sideways when Isaacs, like many youngsters, got caught in the trap of drug abuse.

“I started experimenting with drugs and got addicted very quickly to heroin,” he said, reflecting on an addiction that lasted nearly 20 years. “Despite my addiction, cricket always remained close to my heart, even when I stopped playing, I’d still be watching,” he said.

Long-time friend and supporter, MPCC chairwoman, Foazia Sylvester, has known Isaacs for as long as she’s been with the club.

“Dane became a house child because my husband, Faiez, was his manager when he started playing under-17 and under-19. He then also got to play in the senior teams,” she said.

“He drifted off the road and landed up on the street for a few years due to his ongoing substance abuse,” she said.

“One day, my daughter found him sleeping on the deck at Cape Town Station under cardboard boxes and she let him phone me. From that time she looked out for him to sort him out with food and so on.. He also knew where she was working so that’s how we stayed in contact. Whenever I was in town I would go look him up but was never lucky to find him.

“Two years ago I was told he went back home and he is back on the right track,” she said.

Shamiel Isaacs (no relation to Isaacs), the Umpires Association’s match secretary has nothing but praise for the young umpire. “Dane hasn’t missed a training session since becoming an umpire. He’s motivated, works hard at his game and is someone to look out for in the future,” he said. “He has good morals, ethics and character, all the qualities a good umpire needs,” he said.

“Any umpire needs to work hard, go to nets when clubs have their practice sessions, know the laws and playing conditions, have good player management and communication skills, dedication and commitment, and be able to cope well under pressure,” he said.

“At WPCUA, we have one of the best training departments in the country and it’s run by Tom Mokorosi and Abdoella Steenkamp, both of whom are Cricket South Africa panel umpires. Umpires have to attend a refresher course before the new season commences and we also have training on a monthly basis going through scenarios,” he said.

“So we have about 5 to 6 entry level (level 1) umpire courses throughout the year. Anyone is welcome to register and attend the level 1 course, you don’t have to belong to a club or even know the game of cricket. Level 1 consists of lectures on the laws of cricket. An exam is conducted after the course and if you pass, you basically have a bit of knowledge of the laws of cricket. With level 1 you can umpire school games and low division club games.There are three levels, with Level 3 being the highest and here you can umpire in the premier league and 1st div A.

Of course, Cape Town’s rookie-of-the-year still has a long way to go, but says he’s fully committed to the task at hand.

“It’s all about cricket, I want to give this umpiring a real go at it as I’m still very young and need to get my levels up as high as possible and build up my experience. The goal is to get a contract from CSA,” he said.

“Of course, I will never forget where I come from and what I went through in life. It made me who I am today but one thing I can say, cricket saved my life and for that I will forever be in debt to the sport. I owe my life to each and everyone who is involved in cricket, especially MPCC for their love and support,” he said.

If you would like to become an umpire, call Gaynor Sebola on 079 616 4171. If you need help or more information on substance abuse, call the City of Cape Town’s 24/7 toll-free alcohol and drug helpline on 0800 4357 4 8 (800 HELP 4 U).

Dane Isaacs and Ra’ees Sylvester,
Dane Isaacs and Ra’ees Sylvester