Varsity Netball has provided life-changing opportunities for the top netball players at South African universities since 2013. Bringing the individual campuses and supporters along for the ride has been part of the excitement.
And this the mighty Orange Army of UJ has certainly done in bucket loads! The enthusiastic courtside support of the singing, dancing and orange wig-wearing supporters have spurred Bongi Msomi’s team on to their best results in the history of the competition.
The meaning of off-court support was even more evident during the last round-robin action of the 2022 Varsity Netball tournament in Bloemfontein when a wave of orange swept the Callie Human Hall. UJ won a nailbiter against Tuks to advance to the semi-final of the competition for the first time and sent the former champions packing.
Before the Johannesburg team take on the Maroon Machine of Maties in Monday’s second semi-final for that coveted spot in the final, Varsity Sports wanted to find out what is behind the dedication of the Orange Army.
UJ senior manager (clubs) Nompilo Zondi
“After Covid, we have been trying to create a sense of belonging and sport is a unique environment that engages our community, even when they’re not on the court themselves.
“UJ wasn’t known for its netball, and since they have been doing so much for the university, we wanted to show our appreciation. They are only representing themselves but the entire university student community. You’re also representing Johannesburg, your families and the staff members working at the universities.
FNB UJ during round 6 of the Varsity Netball between the FNB UJ and FNB UP TUKS at Callie Human Hall in Bloemfontein. 3 October 2022, Asem Engage – Hannes Naude
“With all the support, when athletes step onto the court they wear their UJ badge with pride. They know that they are not alone. We want our team to know that whatever emotions they go through, we also go through them with them. Universities will testify about the mental challenges that students have to go through. And this way, supporters get a chance to be part of something they can be proud of.
“It also fits into our strategy of enriching the student experience where students usually don’t feel part of the sports community unless they’re athletes. They create a unique experience for students as well as for players and staff.
“Sport isn’t only about winning. It is about bringing people together.”
Orange Army supporter Nkhanyiso Yeni
“Our main goal is to go and support the girls. As an athlete, you can do the job on the court, but you also need the edge from the supporters whenever things aren’t going your way on the court. And that is where we come in as the Orange Army.
“We’re not only there to watch netball but to support the players. It is part of our community culture where we support each other, no matter what the sports code. Depending on our schedules where students need to attend class or staff members need to perform their duties, we always try to be there for them.
“We were raised to naturally support others with song and dance. Our goal is to be visible to the players when they step onto the court to know that we are there to support them. One of our most prominent group members is Super M, he is usually the big guy with the orange wig.
“We go to these matches to keep the winning streak going, but we’re there for the mental support as well.”
By Jürgen Smith