Varsity Cup Tournament Director Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi pays tribute to Dougie Heymans, who passed away at the age of 48 after battling Covid-19.
A tough customer.
That’s how Dougie Heymans was introduced to me when I joined the FNB Varsity Cup team. His reputation preceded him. He had folklore status within the university sporting ranks and for good reason.
The story of Dougie’s involvement in the Varsity Cup speaks to the crux of what makes our tournament so special and unique. Dougie has been part of the Varsity Cup virtually since inception and over those many years, we’ve had what we call club managers break-aways. These are trips where all the university rugby club managers come together and we discuss all aspects of the tournament and build for the upcoming season.
At these sessions, Dougs was unbelievably instrumental in the success of each tournament.
He was firstly a 'tough customer'. He wouldn’t mince his words when he thought an idea didn’t carry much merit. An example of this was when our campaign activations didn't work, or meal sizes for players were insufficient.
When #KeepTheAggro off the field, the campaign against women and children abuse, came to an end and we moved on to another social cause, Dougie was quite upset as he sincerely believed in the work we were doing and knew how much work they still wanted to do as University of the Free State rugby at the shelter with whom UFS had partnered. He fought for that campaign because he genuinely believed in making a difference.
In the same meetings, filled with robust discussions and different takes, Dougs would be the first to crack a joke and get everyone in the room laughing. That was the measure of the man. It was never personal, it was always about the matter at hand and how we improved as a collective.
His presence will be sorely missed. We were better because he was around.
The high point in our relationship was the 2015 FNB Varsity Cup final at the University of the Free State. It was incredible how much work he put in for it.
Dougie called every contact and resource at his disposal to ensure the stadium was packed to capacity and that UFS hosted the best final ever. We worked together for weeks and it was just remarkable to see his work ethic and style.
He would call someone, confirm on the call what he would do, and do just that. His word was enough and then he followed through on it.
He cared deeply about where he came from and the way we represented Bloem that night. We delivered something special that year and full credit must go to him.
There is so much more one could say. But an email from Dougs stands out for me:
I had a quick telephonic discussion with [name] about a possible U19 competition and residence competition between the northern and central universities during Varsity Cup 2020.
- We want to give a little prestige to U19 rugby because we recruit a lot of players and there is 'no U19 rugby anymore’ – you know what I mean ...
- For the U19 competition, we will look at possibilities for how we can run such a competition without high costs involved.
- We will arrange a meeting where we will invite the universities to discuss it (if some of them do not want to take part then we work with those that want to)
The email continues. But the point I’m trying to make is that this was someone who genuinely cared about the game of rugby and providing opportunities to young players. He would do the leg work to get these discussions going.
Dougs, your legacy will live on. We are all so hard hit by your loss because you were a man of character. We are better because you lived.
You will always be in our hearts.
FNB Varsity Cup Tournament Director, on behalf of the Varsity Cup family