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Much more than a schoolboy thing

WHAT is the aspiration of Zimbabwe’s sportsmen?

Is it grabbing the winning goal in a Cup final at Rufaro Stadium? Is it scoring the winning runs in a Test match at Harare Sports Club?
Whatever it is, for those growing up in a schools system where rugby was the main sport, the aspiration was to play on the hallowed turf that is Prince Edward School’s Jubilee field.
That privilege belonged to the established schools that had slots on the big days of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the annual Cottco Schools Rugby Festival.
To this day, Cottco is an important fixture on the Zimbabwean sporting calendar. It’s a place of pride, sheer determination and love for a sport that really should be one of this country’s major disciplines. 
For a tournament that has no overall winner — it’s played as an exhibition, as the name “festival” suggests — it is highly competitive and played in the true spirit of sportsmanship, both befitting rugby’s tag as a “hooligan game played by gentlemen”.
Such is the high esteem the tournament is held that it has received remarkable recognition internationally, and for a while it was regarded as the biggest tournament of its kind on the planet. South Africa has its prestigious Craven Week every year, where Zimbabwe sends a national schools side, but it is played at provincial level. Cottco attracts individual schools and some of them, with numbers increasing each year, now come to the capital from some of the country’s remotest districts where rugby was previously alien, displaying good technique and a refreshing understanding of the game.  
The rugby gospel is indeed spreading across the nation.
The brainchild of textile company David Whitehead, the tournament’s initial sponsor, it grew in stature every year. Then it expanded further under the masterly supervision of ex-Prince Edward headmaster Clive Barnes — a legend in his own right worthy of a place on the country’s Sports Hall of Fame for driving a supply chain of world-class sportsmen for this country from his school.
Every year, even those who don’t have a clue about the game throng PE for the memories. Playing standards are superior to those of club level, certainly the powerhouse schools who invest heavily in coaching, conditioning and playing programmes.
During Cottco, the entire rugby fraternity gets involved. Former and current international players are assigned to coach the schools, matches are officiated by the country’s finest referees; basically, the who’s who of Zimbabwe rugby play a role in their own way.
Of course, Cottco is just the public exhibition, the main show of a tough season that gets into overdrive in the first and third terms of the schools calendar.
But it is an exhibition that has not just stood the test of time, but snubbed anything less than excellence — testimony of which are the world-class players like Tonderai Chavhanga (PE) Tendai Mtawarira (Churchill and Peterhouse) and Brian Mujati (Peterhouse), who all honed their skills on the three lush fields of PE during Cottco.
So this brings us to where we are now, the 12th edition of this spectacle, beginning on Monday.
Pick’n drive, gentlemen.

 

Enock Muchinjo

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