The Sunday Mail
FROM the minute you walk into the Manolios home in the Mount Pleasant suburb of Harare, you are immediately greeted by a collage of hockey memorabilia that includes pictures, trophies, hockey balls and sticks, most of which belonged to the late domestic iconic figure Mark Manolios.
It is these images that Jessica Evans has which have shaped her early childhood, with her prized possession being a small hockey stick the three-year-old received from her grandfather Mark before he died in September last year.
The stick lies on the table, although most of her attention is solely fixed on newspaper articles that act as part of the lounge’s décor.
Mark’s daughter and mother of three-year-old Jessica, Kristina Manolios-Evans, gave an insight into the hockey player, coach and administrator that her late father had been.
“Dad was passionate about hockey, I do not think there is someone who loved hockey the way he did.
“You see this hockey stick? It’s Jessie’s, which she was given by dad, and if he was still here with us, she would be having many of these by now.
“He gave all his grandchildren sticks at a tender age,” said Kristina, the last born of the late hockey legend.
Mark succumbed to heart failure in South Africa, where he had gone to seek medical attention.
However, his passion for hockey did not die as his last born, Kristina, has taken over and is keen to keep the legacy alive.
She acknowledges that it is a tough task, but she is willing to give it her best.
“I do not know if you will ever find someone who was as passionate about hockey as my dad was; he adored the sport, and it was something that flowed in his blood.
“I would I want to follow his footsteps, but I do admit that his shoes are too big for me to fill alone,” said the 36-year-old Scorpions captain.
The late Manolios started his hockey career in 1955 after his short-sightedness prevented him from pursuing a career in football and rugby.
After failing to make his debut at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, because the Rhodesian regime was under international sanctions, Mark was to head Team Zimbabwe at their first Olympics in Moscow, Russia, after the country attained independence in 1980.
Coincidentally, as the deputy chef de mission of the Zimbabwe contingent at the Games, it was hockey that flew the country’s flag high by scooping the coveted gold medal.
That women’s team that rocked the world has over the decades been fondly known as the Golden Girls.
“Being the chef de mission of the Golden Girls team was something special to him; he always told us about that time, it being a story he loved to tell,” said Kristina.
Four years later, he was again to lead Team Zimbabwe to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
After the 1984 Games, Mark was invited by the United States’ hockey association to coach the American national teams, and on his return to Zimbabwe, he founded Mark Manolios Sports, which was to spearhead development of the sport in the country.
At the time of his death, Mark had been to nine Olympics as a coach and an administrator.
He spent 15 years as the national senior men’s coach, 25 years as an administrator and had a stint with the Kenyan team, which he guided to bronze at the 1988 Six Nations tournament.
The late Mark was also an international umpire, a member of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Equipment Committee, and served in various positions in the Zimbabwean sports sector.
“Everything he did for Zimbabwe, he did it with all his heart; he had passion for Zimbabwean sport, and this was despite the fact that hockey was his one and true love.
“He gave decades to the sport, pouring his heart and soul, and it was his dream to see Zimbabwe thriving and competing at the highest level.
“He wanted to see the development of all sports,” said Kristina.
Kristina was first introduced to the sport at the tender age of three, and went on to represent Zimbabwe at various levels.
She founded her own hockey team — the Scorpions.
“Like I said before, to say that I would one day fill his shoes is a lie, but I will work hard to carry his legacy,” she said.
Following the Golden Girls’ success story, the sport grew exponentially, which resulted in Zimbabwe hosting several major tournaments that include the 1995 All-Africa Games and the 1998 World Cup qualifiers.
Sadly, hockey stadiums, just like many other sporting infrastructure, have suffered from years of neglect and are a caricature of the venues that used to stage big international competitions.
Government’s recent decision to move the management of the National Sports Stadium, which houses Magamba Hockey Stadium, to the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation has led the hockey community to believe that existing facilities will be refurbished.
Currently, Zimbabwe has three astroturf fields — two in Harare (Arundel School and St John’s College) and one in Bulawayo at Khumalo Hockey Stadium — which are now a requirement for field hockey.
“About three weeks ago, I actually noticed that Minister Kirsty Coventry visited Magamba Hockey Stadium and Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex, and so I am hoping that this may mean there is another one (astroturf) in the pipeline.
“Two turfs — in Harare and Bulawayo — are not enough, if we are to compete at the highest level,” she said.
The Scorpions captain said the state of hockey stadiums had been a major setback and largely contribute to Zimbabwe’s failure to compete at the highest level.
“In 1998, we hosted the World Cup qualifiers at Magamba Stadium and the stadium worked well for us. But now it is dilapidated, and this is a big setback to our national teams when they play in important tournaments.
“We cannot train on grass and expect to compete on astroturfs.
“When it comes to competitions, that is the biggest challenge that we are facing.
“Zimbabwe has the talent and capability of competing at the highest level,” she said.
She also bemoaned the lack of sponsorship.
“Currently, hockey in Zimbabwe is about passion. There are no sponsors, and people have to fork out their own money to fund games and trips.
“This has made it difficult to run the sport well,” she said.
Zimbabwe is set to host the 2021 Central-South Africa Qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations at St John’s College from August 21-30.
The qualifiers will see Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia Swaziland and Zambia battle it out for the two available slots to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2021.