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Lots of sweat, blood and blisters. This is what helped Buffeljagsrivier Primary School to make a clean sweep of the South African junior tug-of-war championship this year.

This primary school in Swellendam walked away from the championship this year with almost all the gold medals. The championship took place from 14 to 16 March in Kimberley. Truly a remarkable achievement for a school with only 150 learners.

“Work makes you strong” is undoubtedly an appropriate expression to describe the perseverance of these 24 learners during their preparation and participation. Around 1,500 learners from primary schools across the country participated in different weight classes. However, Buffeljagsrivier’s team excelled far above the rest, “because giving up is simply not part of our vocabulary”.

So says Braam van Vuuren, head of Buffeljagsrivier Primary School, who together with Edward Fritz and De Villiers Swart have been preparing the tug-of-war team for this grueling challenge since October last year.

They sweated blood for eight hours each week during training sessions and also had to follow a special diet for six months to meet the weight requirements of the championships.

Van Vuuren told RNews that he always thought 400 m hurdles was one of the most difficult events on the sports field, until he got involved in tug-of-war last year. He says he now realizes that no sport tests a person’s strength and endurance like tug-of-war.

“As a sportsman through and through, I can tell you today with all honesty that there is no sports portal that children spend so many hours on. Their hands get blisters and later calluses, their hands bleed, it’s an incredibly competitive sport and really rough.

“But to see how these pupils’ hard work pays off was a remarkable experience,” says Van Vuuren proudly.

A total of 18 boys and six girls from Buffeljagsrivier Primary School participated in the championship.

Van Vuuren says there was only one item in which the primary school could not participate: The item where only girls must be in the team.

“It was the only gold medal we couldn’t win. We only had six girls in our tug-of-war team and a complete team consists of eight learners.”

“If we only had two or three more girls who could go to the championships with us, then we would definitely have won that item as well – because the girls who were there are phenomenal.”

According to Van Vuuren, some of the pupils won gold medals in five weight classes.

Inge van Wyk, Zané Kotze, Nielen de Jager and De Wet van Heerden participated in the 280 kg, 320 kg, 360 kg, 400 kg and 440 kg weight classes and walked away with a gold medal for each of those items.

“It was very hot in Kimberley, so it was incredibly punishing. It was cramping and sore hands – they just finished with one item and then ran to the other item to participate in it too. They were busy on the field on Friday and Saturday from 08:00 to 18:30.”

Van Vuuren says the trip to Kimberley cost the team more than R50 000.

“But with all the sponsors from businesses in the area and the selfless support of parents, it only cost participants R400 to take part in the championships. We used some of the money for refreshments and a nice trip to Kimberley’s big hole.”

Van Vuuren says Fritz, his co-coach, is especially the master of tug-of-war and that he had to learn a lot from this teacher.

“I’m really privileged. Numerous schools and individuals are queuing up to learn from him. His coaching is invaluable for students who want to go further in tug-of-war.

“He has lots of secret techniques. Tug of war is an incredibly technical sport, it’s even more technical than cricket and golf,” he says.

“Just like cricket and golf, the way you bend your arms or use your elbow can make an enormous difference.

He believes his team is innovative and does things a little differently.

“We have a fine prediction that the other participants have not yet been able to pick up and I think that is why we are doing so well in this sport.”

This little Afrikaans school is 128 years old, but records in the possession of the education department indicate that formal teaching took place at the school even before that.

“We are not a school, we are a big family. The kids here still know how to just be kids and I think that forms part of our winning recipe.”