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SWINGING FOR THE FENCES
Rick Reilly
January 29, 1996
SOWETO'S TALENTED YOUNG ATHLETES ARE STRIVING TO EXCEL, BUT THEY ARE HINDERED BY THE LEGACY OF APARTHEID
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January 29, 1996

Swinging For The Fences

SOWETO'S TALENTED YOUNG ATHLETES ARE STRIVING TO EXCEL, BUT THEY ARE HINDERED BY THE LEGACY OF APARTHEID

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Besides, he said, he has dreams: "I want to play for my country."

Something about Hamilton making it has brightened everything. Or maybe that's because it is Friday afternoon in Soweto, and there is a liveliness in the air. There are more adults around. A kid finally has a hand to hold.

"Tomorrow there will be funerals and weddings all over," Percy says happily. "And festivals. You will see 50 of them or more."

Why? "Because people die all week, but their families work for whites, and whites won't let them out to go to a funeral. So we save all our funerals, and our weddings, for the weekend. For each wedding and each funeral, a cow will be slaughtered."

Those tiny sprigs of promise continue to pop up. We hear about an American named William Redd, of Richmond, who has been to Soweto twice. When customs officials inspected his luggage, all they found were rackets and balls. He was a friend of Ashe's and is trying to rebuild the late tennis star's center.

We hear of a South African mobile phone company, MTN, that has pledged 10 million rand to the national tennis program over three years, with an emphasis on developing the game in disadvantaged communities.

We also meet twins in Soweto who have become promising squash players by practicing on a muddy court that is a kindergarten half the day. Better yet, Soweto schools are sending kids by the hundreds to pools to learn to swim. And it seems you can't throw a bucket of birdseed anywhere in the township without hitting the basketball entrepreneur, Gresham.

The change is slow. It is slower than ketchup in a new bottle, but it is starting to flow. How can you doubt it when caddies build a golf course out of roadside rubble, and boxers train to become champions in a broom closet, and cricket-loving doctors start sporting revolutions?

"There was a time," says Hamilton's grade school principal, Thulare Bopape, "when people here did not play sports. It was during the time of protests and uprisings. Our children were preoccupied. The people were preoccupied. Now on Sundays, you walk along and see people playing soccer and cricket and basketball. I think sport is a uniting factor for us, a way to reach out to people of other colors. It can be done through sports. People who play together can learn together."

Driving back to the hotel that night, Percy says, "Let me show you something."

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