By Neale Emslie
THE EP Squash Union development programme was this year nominated for the Jack Cheetham Memorial Award for contributions to the development of sport.
Hosted by Murray and Roberts, the awards evening recognises the character and ideals of Cheetham, a former South Africa cricket captain and director of the construction company.
EP’s development programme did not finish among the top three, but it was still a major achievement.
For many, the most amazing thing about the province’s squash development is that it is being driven by a woman aged 87. As energetic as ever, Angela Difford continues to be the driving force in spreading her gospel of squash, a job she has been doing since the early ’80s.
She must be the only sports administrator in the world whose date of birth appears as an official event on the annual EP squash calendar. When I phoned her to arrange a meeting, she asked if we could make it later in the morning as she wanted to go to the gym first!
But the EP development programme is not only about Difford and her many faithful assistants. It is about a sport she loves and her eagerness to spread the game to many children in the region.
Having made a seamless transition from leading player to a committed coach, Difford soon realised that teaching the basics of the game was the only way for a player to develop his or her talent.
The development programme started long before the end of apartheid, at a time when squash was booming and white pupils were well catered for, with courts at schools or nearby clubs.
A request by the SA Women’s Squash Racquets Association in 1979 to develop multiracial squash from grassroots level galvanised Difford to get the project off the ground and, despite many obstacles, the EP development programme has grown into arguably the most successful in South Africa.
In 1994, the first black pupil represented an EP under-11 team and since then the numbers have grown, with players competing in schools leagues as well as the men’s winter leagues and the senior EP provincial sides.
But what keeps Difford going at an age when many others are indulging in quieter pursuits?
"I enjoy it and there is a need for it,” Difford said. "It does keep me going and I love to see people develop.
"There is a real lack of good coaching, especially at the beginner level and ... that’s where you get your potential.”
Despite many challenges, the lack of facilities in the townships and northern areas, and the difficulty with transport, Difford continues to produce a steady stream of players for provincial teams, both junior and senior. Her commitment to the cause cannot be disputed.
This is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, December 29, 2012.