AFTER being encouraged by a friend to take up the game of bowls, Eric Kent had no idea this would lead to 21 years of provincial play in this sport.
Born and raised in the Coombs Valley of the Grahamstown district, Kent matriculated from Graeme College in Grahamstown. Even in those early years, it was obvious Kent was a talented sportsman. By the time he left school in 1961 he had played in the school’s first rugby team for several years and later played for Albany and Eastern Province B after leaving school.
After four years, Kent left the area and relocated to Hope Town in the Northern Cape where he worked for a road construction firm. He was not there for long before he moved to Kimberley, where he was employed by an earth moving and mining company for the next 17 years.
It was here that his life was to change in that he was forced to give up playing rugby through injury and he also met his future wife. He took up golf and soon worked his way down to playing off an eight handicap. At the same time he was introduced to the game of bowls in 1976 and it immediately became apparent that he had a natural talent for this. More than 40 years later he still enjoys the competitiveness of the game, though at a much more relaxed level.
“I was very lucky when I started playing bowls as I was selected to play in strong teams in Kimberley. I learnt a lot from these more senior players, which set me up for a good future in the game,” he said.
It did not take him long to make his mark when he won his club’s singles and went on to achieve this on eight occasions. He also won the Griqualand West singles once.
While representing his club, he skipped his team to win the Griquas fours on five occasions, the pairs twice and registered a hat-trick in the mixed pairs. He was also successful in the Griquas masters singles, which he won twice.
Kent was rewarded for his efforts in 1982 when he was selected to play in the Griquas inter-provincial team. Three years later he was selected as a skip and did so continuously for the next eight years. It was during this time that he was selected to play singles in the SA President’s Cup team on three occasions. This was considered to be the Springbok B team as they played against the full South African side when they undertook inland tours. Many knowledgeable people in the bowling world said at the time that Kent would have probably been a full Springbok had he been playing in another province.
After working for himself for a number of years, Kent sold his business and moved to the family holiday home in Port Alfred in 1994 and joined the Kowie Bowls Club. His reputation preceded him and he was selected a year later to skip an Eastern Province inter-provincial team and did so for the next seven years when he retired from provincial bowls.
He also went on to win the EP singles title on three occasions and was runner-up once. He also won the EP fours twice and , with another Kowie member, Merle Jakins, took the EP mixed pairs title three times. Kent and Jakins went on to play in the South African mixed pairs where they finished as runners-up in the finals.
Kent was also invited to play in the EP masters singles for seven years.
At club level, he has won Kowie’s singles on eight occasions and is currently playing in their championships.
During his illustrious career, Kent has played against the best. These include famous Springboks Kelly Lightfoot, Bill Mosely, Nando Gatti, Kevin Campbell, Neil Burkett and Frans du Plessis.
“The greatest I ever played against was the legendary Lightfoot, who was a member of the famous team that won the World Cup in 1986. I skipped our fours team against him in the inter-provincials in 1988 and it was a proud moment when we managed to beat him,” he said.
Kent concluded: “I still love a competitive game of bowls and enjoy a bit of hunting and fishing when I get the opportunity.”
With his wife, Celeste, the couple enjoy life living at the Fish River.
By BOB FORD