Boksburg Athletic Club is not just a running club. It is a club that is steeped in rich history. Over the past 35 years the Club has faced many challenges but has always come out on top. It is a club filled with passion, enthusiasm and commitment to a single goal which is to foster sport in all spheres. It is an Athletic club comprising of many different facets and a wide variety of people from all parts of the population.
The Inaugural meeting of Boksburg Athletic Club (BAC) took place at the ERPM Rugby Club on Wednesday, October 29th 1975 at 8pm. At this meeting 81 people signed the attendance register. The meeting was chaired by Mr Issy Kramer and it was here the clubs constitution came to be and the office bearers of the first committee were elected. Tommy Malone was elected as Chairman of the club and in his acceptance speech Tommy is quoted in the minutes as saying: “The Chairman spoke in terms of fostering sport in all spheres, e.g., jogging, field events, track, marathon etc. He emphasised that there are going to be problems in the future, but success lay in the team spirit of the club. He was confident that the club would last as talent in Boksburg is unlimited. The chairman spoke of the facilities available in Prince George Park and the new clubhouse which will be completed in the near future”.
Not long after establishing themselves as a functioning Athletic Club, BAC sought the permission by the Transvaal Provincial Administration to hold the “Bloodhill Blitz” on a Wednesday evening. Up till now the Blitz had been run every Wednesday evening, 52 weeks a year, since 1968 without permission. The Transvaal Provincial Administration granted them permission but on the following conditions: They would need to stop running a half hour after sunset which meant the “Blitz” would start at 17:30 and not 18:00pm. Also, due to time limit, the runners were only able to run the 5k distance and not the 8k, as they had to be off the road by 6pm. The Blitz continues to be run every Wednesday and as such is the oldest time trial in South Africa.
Today you can choose to run the 2k, 4k or 8k Blitz, i.e., time trial. This continues to takes place every Wednesday from the Jimmy Cawood Park (across the road from Boksburg City Stadium). The rules regarding runners being ‘off’ the road after sunset have, like many other things, been done away with. During the summer months of September to April the Blitz starts at 18:00 and during the winter months, May to August, it is run from 17:45. To date there has never been a Wednesday without the Blitz.
Some reading this may remember that it was during this early era of amateur sport most sporting codes did not allow female participation and it was for this reason Boksburg decided that although their female counterparts could not participate in the actual events, the club would endeavour to include them as much as possible. In April 1977, the club sent a notice out to their members stating: “Lady Seconds – To make us more noticeable while seconding our runner, boy-friend, husband, we have decided to wear a casual uniform so that spectators will know we are a B.A.C second. The uniform comprises of: Royal blue and white striped t-shirt at R4-25 each. Royal blue material at R3-50 per meter (60 wide) for you to make up for yourselves slacks, skirts, shorts, whatever you may like to second in. For a nominal cost of R7-75 we can become the best dressed and most noticeable lady seconds at all the race meetings.”
Thankfully those days are gone and women are fully entitled to participate in all forms of sport. Once these sporting barriers were dropped female athletes no longer only stood on the side of the road and handed their runner a sponge or drink of water but actively took part in the different events. The Club saw some great female athletes emerge during the next few decades. Athletes such as Shelley Van der Spuy, Carolyn Wridgway, Lucinda Newby, Frith Van Der Merwe, Yolande Maclean and Leslie Train.
But for many in the club they would have taken the above concerns about what the female seconds were wearing and required to do any day over what lay ahead in the next few years. The early 80’s would prove to be the most historic and troubled era for the club in its short history. It is often said that the true character of someone comes out not in times of success but in times of struggle and strife. This exact sentiment was echoed in Tommy Malone’s first speech as president where he stated that there would be problems in the future but the success of the club would lie in the team spirit within the club.
In February 1980 Boksburg Athletic Club made a historic move and relocated their headquarters because of the decision by the Conservative party to bar Blacks from the use of municipal facilities for either competitions or training. The club had become the first victim of Boksburg town councils controversial sports policy. In response to intense pressure from local community the Club released a press statement which read: “One of the aims and objectives of Boksburg Athletic Club as stated in its constitution is to ensure that there shall be no hindrance to individual members on racial, political or any other grounds. As such the club was the first in the Transvaal to encourage club membership and participation in athletics by athletes of all races. The club has decided to move its base away from Prince George Park as a result of the actions taken by the Boksburg Town council in denying our black athletes the use of the training facilities at Prince George Park”.
Despite Boksburg’s best efforts to keep the club together there was a palpable uneasiness within the club. The decision to hold all the training sessions, races and meetings at venues free of town interference and to take a stand against the petty apartheid was met by some with applause and others with discontent. The Club was dislodging at the seams. Some members felt strongly that a name change should take place while others thought the best way to fight the petty apartheid was to keep the name and stand firm on the established constitution. They left Prince George Park and sought other, non council, venues to run the Blitz and club races from. One of the local schools, Parkdene Primary, became the new home of the Wednesday night Blitz for the next few years. Although these measures cost the club financially and were most inconvenient, the club was determined to stay in Boksburg and abide by its constitution to foster athletics among people of all races. They would continue to oppose any moves from any quarter to deny this right.
But the point that politics and sport can never be separated was driven home at a later stage when a breakaway of the clubs leading black runners took place and the East Rand Athletics Club was born. The black athletes were quoted as saying “We left because of politics… nothing more”. A lot of pressure had been brought to bear on the black runners in the townships for competing in the colours of BAC, which is why they decided to form a club with their own identity.
“Business as usual” is often a statement synonymous with distress or unrest within an organisation. But for BAC it was ‘business as usual’ in the next few years as they hosted their 3 annual road races. The races went off successfully despite having to be run in and around the streets of Benoni. This dispelled any notions of the club faltering and further established them as a great success story in the history of the country. The Colgate Race attracted a field of over 3 500 and today continues to be recognised as one of the top road races in Gauteng.
There probably isn’t a single runner in the country that has not heard of or participated in the Colgate Road Race. It is by far the flag ship race for the club and continues to be one of the most popular events on the CGA calendar, often being used by most Comrades runners as their last ‘long run’ before the Comrades Marathon. The club has enjoyed a long standing sponsorship with Colgate over the years. The race takes place annually around a month before Comrades. Boksburg also hosts the Sportsman’s Warehouse Road Race in which is held in October each year.
With the troubled years behind them the club could proudly boast to have managed to not only keep the name of the club as Boksburg Athletic Club but also cement themselves as one of the best Athletic clubs in the country. It had taken a lot of strength, dedication and commitment from the members to see the club through these very turbulent years.
The 80’s ended on a very high note with one of their members being awarded springbok colours for the Marathon. John Sebata was included in the springbok team for the SA marathon championships which took place on the 25 February 1989. This high continued for all aspects of the club and in March 1993 the club moved to the Boksburg City Stadium. The move signified the end of an uneasy past and a very promising and exciting future. The setting up and establishment of BAC at the stadium was for many in the club a dream come true. More so for the founder members who had envisaged this very day when they first discussed the idea of an Athletic club back in 1975. It was a day to be proud to be associated with this development and Club. From this day forward the John Hattle Memorial and Colgate Clubs official road races as well as all training runs would take place from the stadium. Tuesday nights would become synonymous with Steve de Bod’s track sessions held on the tartan track and the Blitz had found a new home, the park opposite the stadium. The family atmosphere and general comradeships of many years of friendship and hard work was there for all to see. The Club was back on top.
The 90’s were happy years for the club and so too has the 20th Century been. Boksburg continues to grow from strength to strength with new members joining each month. The different sections are each as strong as the other. With road running, track and cross country being catered for what more can one ask for from a Club?