A GROUP of 10 Nelson Mandela Bay netball and rugby players enjoyed the trip of a lifetime when they toured Britain last month, competing in several matches and tournaments.
The players, aged 12 to 13, who are from previously disadvantaged areas, were accompanied by two coaches, and received the opportunity through the United Through Sport Junior School of Excellence Programme, based in Zwide.
United Through Sport (UTS) is a South African-registered charity that focuses on development through sport in and around the previously disadvantaged communities of the Eastern Cape.
It uses sport as a tool for developing key life skills and health awareness, and to create educational opportunities.
For the 10 girls and two coaches the tour was the start of a whirlwind experience.
During the trip the girls participated in a national British netball tournament, an international tag rugby tournament and educational exchanges at various schools.
Cultural experiences included visiting London's Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and the London Eye.
The girls performed extremely well on the sporting front. They played a total of eight netball matches, winning six and losing two. They finished third overall in the national tournament, losing only to 2012 national finalists and eventual winners Guildford High.
In the international rugby tournament, hosted by the English Premier League club Saracens, the girls far exceeded expectations, winning every match and eventually overcoming an experienced Kenya team in a tightly contested final.
The girls received their trophy from ex-England international John Inverdale, who was overawed by the natural ability of the young South Africans. "Over the past few years I've been involved in several young ladies' rugby teams as part of efforts to grow the game internationally, but I've never come across a group of girls with such natural ability," Inverdale told UTS rugby coach Nick Mould.
The trip formed part of an ongoing programme the girls have been involved in for the past year, in which they are developed academically by UTS and receive training in sport and life skills.
The aim at the end of this year is to place as many of the girls as possible in the UTS Senior School of Excellence Programme, run in partnership with top Port Elizabeth schools such as Pearson High, Victoria Park and St George's Prep and College.
In this programme they are then supported by UTS throughout high school, with the eventual aim of enrolling them in tertiary institutions.
Reflecting on the trip, Mould said: "This trip has been so important for the girls involved, not only in terms of proving their sporting pedigree on an international stage but more importantly in terms of the overall educational development of the girls."
This tour was sponsored by international rugby development charity Touraid with hosting and programme support from Ripley Court Prep in Surrey.
UTS is supported in South Africa by firms such as Volkswagen, Nike and Coca-Cola, and by the Signature of Hope Foundation.