THE INTRODUCTION OF INLINE HOCKEY TO NAMIBIA
By Tina Green
Inline hockey was introduced to Namibia in 1995 quite by accident. Swakopmunder, Danie Holloway, returned from America with a pair of inline skates. His new acquisition met with excited approval by his friends. Knolles Green, Russell Vinjevoldt and Tina Green volunteered as thirtysomething guinea pigs and plucked up the nerve to brave the treacherous wheels. The first tentative attempts were accompanied by a cacophony of shrieks and earth-shattering falls. Braking on uneven interlocks required expertise and the equivalent of a driver's licence! Perseverance paid off, and in time, even the most timid of the daredevils could pass for a semi-accomplished rollerblader.
Anxious squeals turned into triumphant shouts once a lap had been mastered without severe bruising and broken bones. Naturally, such disturbances of the peace in an otherwise sleepy neighbourhood did not go by unnoticed, and soon attracted a horde of sceptical bystanders: after all, feet are made for walking! This physical exertion resulted in the first of many get-togethers where various possibilities concerning "dem wheels" were discussed ad infinitum. Danie, Tina and Knolles were convinced that there was a gap in the Namibian market. A South African inline supplier was found, and Desert Sports opened its doors.
Practise continued and the trio soon had an enthusiastic following. Brooms doubled as hockey sticks. Compressed coke tins and other paraphernalia were reinvented as pucks. Street hockey ala Swakopmund knew no rules or etiquette. At last a set of game rules arrived with one of the deliveries to Desert Sports. Knolles and Russell immersed themselves in a study of inline hockey procedures and promptly tried to convert theory into practice. The street corner in front of the Green residence was swamped with inline enthusiasts and seemed to have diminished in size. Like the renowned Pied Piper, the "geriatrics" with their motley band of "bladers" appropriated the parking space at the Mole, Swakopmund's beachfront. Blaring music from a car hi-fi system provided the necessary ambience. Unsuspecting pedestrians quickly took cover, and car owners left their vehicles safely parked in garages rather than risk dents.
Autumn approached and with it premature darkness and swirling mist. The players strongly resembled ghostly apparitions in a horror movie. It was clear that a new venue had to be found.
The SFC Sports Club, proud owner of a 22x36m indoor rink (somewhat short of international requirements), was adopted as the home of the newly formed SFC Inline Skating Club aka the Coastal Pirates. This fledgling sub-section of the SFC soon boasted its own Constitution and Committee. It was clear to even the staunchest of its critics, that inline hockey was here to stay.
The first 'tournament' was held by the Wild Cats in Windhoek. Age categories then were of no great importance and mixed teams took to the rink with more enthusiasm than skill. Enjoyment and fun were ranked high on the list of priorities. The success of the tournament entrenched the idea of regular tournaments and the Coastal Pirates immediately reciprocated. Needless to say, a competitive spirit between the teams steadily grew and soon tournaments were anticipated with great excitement, preparation and furore. The inline bug was contagious and soon spread further north.
Tina and Knolles were approached by Mr Ferdi van Wyk for an order of roller hockey equipment and a set of game rules. The Scorpions Inline Hockey Club in Otjiwarongo was formed. The three established clubs were joined by the Tanks from Windhoek. Fun and games turned to deadly earnest. As the players developed their skills and techniques improved, tournament matches became serious affairs. No sooner had a supplier from Johannesburg sent Tina the registration forms for the first South African National Inline Hockey Championships scheduled for December 1995, when Knolles and Russell bulldozed five sets of Coastal Pirates parents into giving permission for their offspring to be whisked to the City of Gold for an extended weekend. The aim of the mission, of course, was to gauge the South African standard of play. Once that had been established a decision would be made regarding Coastal Pirate participation at the championships. The enthusiastic group travelled from venue to venue, until they finally arrived at a club where a league was in progress. After extensive introductions and brief negotiations, the five Swakopmund players were integrated into the Gauteng teams and voila: the Namibians could hold their own! Canadian coach and employee of the Can/Am club, Chris Lemay, was duly impressed. He promptly agreed to impart his knowledge and expertise to the players of Namibia.
Without further ado, the SFC Coastal Pirates hosted a workshop in Swakopmund to which players from other clubs were invited. Encouraged by the trip to Johannesburg and in accordance with the Coastal Pirates motto "nothing ventured, nothing gained", participation at the South African National Championships became top priority. With Chris's help, teams were selected and reinforced by invited players from other clubs. With more bravado than skill, the 18&U and Open Coastal Pirates teams arrived at the Portuguese Hall, convinced that they would take on their opponents by storm. The teams were awarded silver and bronze in the 18&U and Open divisions respectively, not a mean feat for a team with players averaging 16 years old, with the oldest player barely having reached 18. The achievement in itself was remarkable considering that most of the players had only been introduced to the sport 4-6 months before the Championship, in a country where inline hockey was previously an unheard of sports code. The success of the Coastal Pirates was encouraging to players in Namibia as a whole and paved the way for regular participation at tournaments in South Africa.
Enheartened by the speedy progress players were making in Namibia, Knolles, Tina and Russell decided to explore the puck abroad. A letter from The United States Amateur Confederation of Roller Skating was a cause for great excitement. Namibia was invited to participate in the FIRS Junior World Cup Inline Hockey Championships to be held at the Odeum Sports Arena in Chicago, Illinois, USA from 27-29 July 1996. Immediately trials were held, a junior team selected, parents consulted and fundraising commenced with a vengeance. The dire need to fill the coffers for participation in the World Championship gave rise to the concept of arranging a street hockey tournament as a fundraiser.
The first street hockey tournament, sponsored by Woermann & Brock, was held in a parking lot opposite the store in Swakopmund. Fundraising street hockey tournaments were later adopted by other clubs and developed into the present day business leagues held by various clubs throughout the country.
Unfortunately, lack of funds prevented the junior national team from flying to Chicago. The dream of participating in a World Championship would only be realised nine years later.
1996 also saw the birth of an umbrella association for Inline Hockey in Namibia. 30 March went down as the date for the inauguration of the Namibia Inline Skating Association (NISA). Club delegates met in Karibib and the voting began. Harald Schmidt took on the helm as President, with Knolles Green as Vice, Gisi Mitchell as Treasurer, Manfred Loth as PRO and Tina Green as Secretary-General. Club representatives were also appointed to the Committee. NISA was accepted as a member of the Namibia National Sports Council and became affiliated to the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation). The scene was set to develop the sport in Namibia and to promote national and international participation.
Coastal Pirates decided that the time had come to employ a permanent coach from Canada. Serge Belliveau, also available to assist with NISA workshops, built up basic skills and techniques throughout the country. After two years, Canadian coach duo, Marc-Andre Dubee and Pascal Daoust, took over his position. These highly qualified and accomplished coaches took hockey to yet another level. The dream of one day participating at a world event came yet another step closer!
In 1999 Stefan Jonsson from Sweden continued training the Coastal Pirates for the next two years, until he was replaced by Coastal Pirates coach, Reto Fröhlich, ex-goalkeeper of third time German league winners, the Assenheim Patriots from Bad Nauheim. The DTS Kamikaze Club, too, invited a succession of coaches from the USA , Germany , Switzerland and Sweden. Thanks to the input of Gordon Whittaker, Greg Pruden, Rolf Frei und Dennis Frederiksson, the Windhoek players' skills also improved remarkably. Windhoek's Cazadores (previously Tanks) club followed suit and perfected their skills under Swiss coach Chris Hofstetter.
Over the years, NISA busied itself with the development of the sport on national and international level. Participation at the South African National Championships on club, federation or national level became a regular event on the Namibian inline hockey calendar. Teams from Namibia were well-known competitors and in 1996 through to 2004 participated with excellent results. In 1998 the Coastal Pirates secured first place in the Open and 16&U divisions, whilst a mixed team from Windhoek secured first place in the 18&U division. A definite highlight was the Namibian 20&U National team's 9:1 victory against South Africa in 1997. December 2000 and 2001 were victorious years for the Coastal Pirates Open and 14&U teams, which respectively earned first place at the Africa Cup in Cape Town. Many Coastal Pirates players also won individual awards at this event. The League and tournaments are conducted according to the IIHF game rules, but also follow a set of NISA Rules according to which some of the international rules have been adapted to suit the circumstances and facilities in Namibia. Canadian coach, Marc-Andre Dubee, was instrumental in setting up the league point system which was devised to encourage motivation and increase the skills of the competing teams. While initially younger age divisions still played inline hockey with a ball, this policy was changed in 2004 and currently all age divisions play with a puck.
Inline hockey was still on an incline. A further club, The Badgers, was formally established in June 2000 and soon proved to be serious competition at local events.
In March 2001, NISA was under the helm of Tom Mutavdzic, with Monica Grüttemeyer as Vice- President, Leon Steyn as Treasurer and Tina Green as Secretary-General. While NISA still busied itself with developing the sport on a national level, the Coastal Pirates employed Canadian coach Philippe Boudreault. Phil soon discovered that the skills of players in Namibia had risen to a level where international competition was called for to take the players yet another step further.
In 2003 he took a 14&U team to the World Inline Cup in Edmonton, Canada. Chairperson of the Coastal Pirates, Ulrike Rodenwoldt, set the wheels in motion and a Coastal Pirates team with invited players from other clubs duly landed in Canada to live an unforgettable experience. The team participated as the Namibia Pirates and surprised their opponents with their skills.
In 2005 the helm of NISA was taken over by Dr P.T. Shipoh, Walter Hailwax as Vice-President and Tina Green in the position as secretary-general. The Name of the Association was changed to the Namibian Ice and Inline Hockey Association (NIIHA). Sights were not only set on building an ice hockey rink in Windhoek, but, on inline level, to participate in the 2005 IIHF World Championships. In order to participate, Namibia had to beat South Africa in a series of qualifying matches, and training was immediately stepped up a notch. NIIHA appointed head coach, Philippe Boudreault, with the assistance of Carter Hartz in charge of the goaltenders, and then Cazadores coach, Johannes Jauernig from Germany (and now employed by DTS Kamikaze), kept a vigilant eye on potential national players. Trials were held and a national squad selected. Players had to commit themselves to a stringent mental and physical fitness programme. Biokinetics was the order of the day. Namibia was determined to do business. South Africa was duly defeated and the Namibian National Team was on its way to Kuopio, Finland for the 2005 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championships to be held from 9-16 July. Newly appointed Cazadores coach, Roman Marx from Germany, was immediately roped in to lend a helping hand. Team manager, Ulrike Rodenwoldt, together with tour manager, Tom Mutavdzic, were faced with the daunting task of trying to make participation financially possible. With the assistance of a "never say die" committee, the support of sports director Arndt Asmus, enthusiastic parents and skilful coaches, the "once upon a time dream to participate in a world championship" had finally become a reality.
The Namibian National Team returned from Finland with a 14th place world ranking and the IIHF Fair Play Trophy. The fact that the Team's position had secured Namibia automatic qualification for the 2006 World Championships filled management, coaches and players with an iron determination to do better next time. No sooner had the Namibian delegation arrived back on African soil, preparations and training for 2006 were put into action. Once again trials kicked off the programme, followed by a stringent fitness regimen under Head Coach Phil Boudreault. Mario Troha joined him as Assistant Coach and together the National Team was honed into shape.
Team Manager Ulrike Rodenwoldt with Tour Managers Arndt Asmus and Tom Mutavdzic meanwhile dived headfirst into frenzied fundraising with impressive results: the team would be leaving for Budapest on 30 June well prepared for the battle that lay ahead between 9 and 17 July. First stop was Passau, but instead of sightseeing, the team was scheduled to don their skates for preparatory games against top league German opponents. After a sobering taste of international competition, it was off to Budapest to face-off against the world's best. Again the Namibian Team proved that it was a force to be reckoned with and managed to finish in 13th position with automatic qualification for the 2007 World Championships to be held in Germany. Once again Team Namibia, after a short rest, plunged into its preparatory training schedule, this time under the watchful eye of Mario Troha. It was with great sadness that Namibia had to say good-bye to Philippe Boudreault, who accepted an offer to play professional hockey in Spain.
Bearing in mind that Namibia has only one internationally sized inline hockey rink, a small population, and is severely hampered by funds in support of the sport, it comes as no surprise that NIIHA is proud of the National Team's achievements. The determination to develop this sport has grown solid roots and the will to succeed against all odds has long become second nature to all participants.
The five clubs affiliated to NIIHA are:
Coastal Pirates - Swakopmund
Scorpions - Otjiwarongo
DTS Kamikaze - Windhoek
Cazadores - Windhoek
Badgers - Windhoek