I felt it a few weeks ago. DHS first hockey team were playing Maritzburg College on Papes Astro in the KZN capital. It was an out-of-body feeling – as if some “thing” was fighting its way into my psyche, my very body.
I had seen the DHS boys entering the arena and there was a purpose about the way they walked and quietly talked; then the “Good morning sir” with an accompanying open-faced smile, in the boys’ eyes a genuine sense that they meant it, were not obligated to do it.
Feature caption: DHS first team celebrate a goal against Maritzburg College on Papes Astro in the KZN capital. School lost narrowly in a game that could easily have gone the other way.
I don’t get this “feeling” every day. From that point onward I made a conscious effort to discern whether that “feeling” about this team would stay with me. It did.
Often, you are only as good as your leader, and in School’s first ever director of hockey, first team coach Michael Baker, Durban High School had found the ideal man to resurrect the sport. A Michael Baker quote I found on DHS social media sums it up. “Don’t waste your time looking back. You are not going that way.”
In deciding on a headline, the word “catalyst” came to mind: not sure if it would work, I looked up its meaning and here it is: “a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction – without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.”
Perfect. The Michael Baker substance has galvanised a chemical reaction in the boys of DHS hockey. He is still pretty much the same Michael Baker. But his “effect” has been nothing short of remarkable.
And what a journey it has been: In 2016 Michaelhouse first team beat DHS 8-2 and 11-0.
As the DHS Foundation’s Andrew Shedlock put it in a wonderfully moving tribute to School’s director of hockey: “DHS had arrived at Michaelhouse with one-and-a-half hockey teams.
“A coach missed the bus to Michaelhouse. DHS U16A were thrashed and the game was cut short, and to make matters worse some of the U16 team had to fill in for the 1st team, the 1st team result …… embarrassing to say the least.”
This year, on 14 May, again DHS took on Michaelhouse and the DHS results read: Played: 11, Won: 7, Drew: 1, Lost: 3,” says Andrew. “Our 1st team won 4 -2 whilst our U16A team won 4-1.”
Shedlock goes further: “Five years ago, in 2017, our results against Maritzburg College were as embarrassing. The DHS 1st team lost by a record score and our U16A and U14A teams’ games were also stopped short when the score was 10-0 to College, that day DHS only had four teams.
“In 2018, DHS under the new headmaster, Tony Pinheiro, employed a director of hockey, his name Michael Baker – and what a masterstroke it was. What Michael has done for DHS hockey over the past five years in beyond comprehendible.”
I think Mr Pinheiro saw something in Mr Baker that went way beyond hockey knowledge. I think he saw in Michael Baker a hockey educator who would inspire the boys, instil in them a strong sense of self-belief.
Michael Baker is very much his own man. Everything about him tells you that. I saw him in action with the KZN Coastal U13 team a few years ago. They loved their coach. They won lots of matches. They were a happy group who loved playing.
Andrew Shedlock again: “Michael has grown DHS Hockey from 4 teams to 12 teams and this without DHS’s own Astroturf during that time. Michael has turned DHS hockey from a ‘weekend walkover’ into one of the most formidable hockey schools in KZN and, dare I say, South Africa.
“Why I share this story, is that there are some people who just go about their business, they don’t seek the accolades and the glory, they just do their job, and that is… Michael Baker.”
Shedlock, who had a distinguished sporting career as a DHS schoolboy and after school, and who has given much of his time since, said this of Baker: “We as DHS Old Boys are extremely grateful for what you have done for DHS hockey.”
From the dire situation just a few years ago, Baker and his coaches have transformed School hockey into a group who recently achieved 36 players being selected for the various KZN Coastal age-group teams.
Shedlock added: “DHS Old Boys wish to congratulate our hockey coaching staff, who have taken our hockey programme to the next level. To our boys, all 36 of you, a massive congratulations to all of you on these historic selections. In School’s hockey history, this is the largest KZN selection of players by an absolute landslide.”
As a DHS parent put it: “Quite unbelievable what can be achieved with leadership and vision.”