April 20, 2012

A Pat on the Back

After losing in the finals, I was pretty disappointed like most of the team. What really bothered me though was the way we lost. That morning, one of the players had been caught stealing from her teammates in the dorms. Several others were being lazy and didn’t want to come for warm-ups before the match. A couple of others were quarrelling with each other throughout the warm-ups. During the match our best player was supposed to be playing as a striker, but kept falling back in defense because she didn’t trust her teammates. Others got annoyed and angry after the first goal and just started kicking balls hard instead of passing while others tried to do everything themselves. At half-time several of the players weren’t listening to the head coach and were sitting away from the team looking in another direction while others were crying acting like the game was over already.

As I was sitting alone and thinking about all of that, God showed me something. He showed me the stark contrast between these other girls from different parts of the province and our Suba Laker girls. While all of that other stuff was going on, our six girls never had any problems in the dorms or with their teammates. In fact, they were always the ones helping out the chaperone and the team manager with various duties or chores. They were constantly working hard on and off the field and were always where they were supposed to be at the right time. They listened to their coaches, trusted their teammates and played good football. They didn’t lose hope when we fell behind, but kept on fighting hard throughout. They were trying to encourage their other teammates in a positive way. They showed the essence of what sports is all about. I would hate to think of what would have happened without them. It was the same with last year's team also.
God reconfirmed that the reason he has opened up these doors for me in sports here in Kenya is not just to win games and championships and produce national players, but to develop the character in these young ones by teaching them good values and morals. We have been doing that with our players in the Suba Lakers and I am now inspired to do it even more.

God can use sports powerfully to teach teamwork, goal-setting, self-confidence, obedience, respect and hardwork. It also helps relieve stress and pressure, promotes healthy lifestyles and encourages students to stay in school. At the same time, it can expose them to see new places, meet new friends and can open up doors for opportunities in the future academically and professionally.
After a tough loss, it was like God was giving me a pat on the back to show me that what I am doing is making a difference in the lives of these young ones. We are helping prepare them for a successful future in sports, school and life.

A Comeback for the Ages

The National Primary School Ball-games in Mombasa began on Sunday morning with the preliminary rounds. In the previous ten years our girls football team had never gone very far maybe because of poor selection of players or coaching or lack of teamwork and cooperation among the players from different tribes in our province. Last year was the breakthrough year. Five of our Suba Lakers helped Nyanza reach the finals where we narrowly lost in extra time on a controversial goal to the defending champs (Western). This year with six Suba Lakers, we wanted to go one step further and win the championship.

In the preliminaries we struggled a little bit trying to find the right combinations and put the right players in the best positions. Fortunately, we managed to emerge #2 in our pool. Unfortunately, we were matched up with the defending champs again in the semifinals. The girls were excited at the opportunity to seek revenge for last year’s final. We made a few changes to the line-up and dominated the game from the very beginning, playing much better than we had in the preliminaries. We missed several chances in the first half to move ahead, but were confident that the goals would come. Shortly after halftime we committed a foul inside our penalty box and they converted the penalty kick. A few minutes later they added a second goal and we found ourselves down 2-0 with ten minutes to play in a match we had thoroughly controlled.

It was do or die and we had nothing to lose so we kept shouting and encouraging the girls as much as we could and thankfully they didn’t lose hope. They also believed and kept fighting hard. Within a short time we were awarded a penalty on a handball and we converted to draw within one goal. In the dying minutes Rachel Ongatch was able to collect a rebound from a corner kick and stick it into the upper right corner of the goal to equalize and send all of the Nyanza fans into a frenzy. Just like last year’s championship game against Western we were again going into extra time. This time there was no controversial goal. In fact we again controlled the match though we missed two great chances when the striker was alone with the goalkeeper. The extra time ended in a draw and we prepared for penalty kicks.

The first two kickers for each team converted their penalties. We were given a ray of hope when our goal keeper Winnie Adhiambo (CGA and Suba Lakers) blocked their third attempt. Unfortunately our third kicker also shot over the goal post. Then, one after another, every kicker on both teams kept scoring until we reached the 9thkicker. Winnie again blocked their attempt, but this time Lavenda Achieng (Suba Lakers) stepped up to score the winning goal. The Nyanza contingent stormed the field, lifting several players on their shoulders to celebrate the miraculous comeback. The dancing went on for several minutes, followed by some singing and chanting. It was one of the best games I have ever been involved with here in Kenya.

The following day, the Finals were anticlimactic. The host team, Coast Province, brought in several non-Primary school students from a local club and ended up defeating us. We again fell behind by two goals (both in the first half) when they were playing with the wind. We tried to mount another comeback in the 2nd half and even scored a goal, but the referee disallowed it for no apparent reason.
In the end, we finished 2nd in the country, but the joy of exacting revenge and dethroning the two-time defending champs in the semifinals will linger in our memories for a long time!

The Other Side of Kenya

Last week I was able to travel with the Nyanza Primary School Provencal team to the other side of Kenya. Six of our Suba Lakers were among the 20 girls from our province that were selected to Nationals in Mombasa. They trained for one week in Kisumu before embarking on the long journey across country. The Nyanza contingent included boys and girls football, handball, volleyball, netball and gymnastics along with numerous officials and coaches. In all, we filled up three big school buses. With a few hitches along the way it took us around 24 hours to reach our destination. The players didn't seem to mind as they enjoyed getting to see many parts of their own country that they had never laid their eyes upon before.

The day before we began our competition, we were able to take them to a public beach so that they could go swimming in the ocean. After alighting the bus they were met by many hawkers selling everything from food to souveneirs. Others were renting out intertubes, camel rides, selling photos and about anything else possible to make a little money. The students only focus was on swimming, and maybe a few pictures of themselves to prove to others they were really there. Most of the Nyanza people have grown up around the lake so the saltiness of the ocean really shocked them, but they soon got used to it and played for hours. It was low tide so it was like the world's biggest kiddy pool because the water was only coming up to their knees or waist and it went on forever.

Needless to say, it took some time to round up all the kids amongst the throngs of people when it was time to go, but eventually we succeeded. Thoroughly exhausted, the kids got back on the bus with many stories to tell all of their friends and family when they reach home.

April 10, 2012

National Talent

A team comprised mostly of Suba Laker girls helped Mbita District reach the finals at the primary school County Championship and also helped Homa Bay County reach the finals at the Provencal Tournament.  After losing in the finals, six members were chosen to help form the Provencal team that will be competing at Nationals next week.  It is quite an honor that out of hundreds of thousands of primary school students in the country, they will be among the very few that make it to the national level.  This week they have been training in Kisumu and will leave on Wednesday to travel to Mombasa on the Kenyan Coast.  It will be the first time all of these girls have gone to the coast and they are really looking forward to seeing the ocean.  The bus ride will take 12-15 hours, but will be well worth it. 

The Nyanza team will be competing against the other 7 provinces in Kenya: Western, Rift Valley, Nairobi, Central, Eastern, North Eastern and Coast.  Last year the Nyanza team (with 4 Suba Lakers) reached the finals before losing to the defending champs, Western. 

The players selected were:
Theresa Atieno- 7th Grade from Christ's Gift Academy (mid-fielder)
Winny Adhiambo- 8th Grade from Christ's Gift Academy (goal-keeper)
Lavenda Achieng- 6th Grade from Kirindo (utility player)
Winny Akinyi- 7th Grade from Kirindo (striker/wing)
Nancy Okeyo- 8th Grade from Kakimba (defender)

Peninah Akoth- 8th Grade from Gethsemane (defender)

April 1, 2012

Letters to God

After the District Championships ended on Friday, we have been training over the weekend to prepare for Regionals on Monday.  On Saturday the players came over to my house to wash all of the uniforms we would use next week.  After they finished, I invited them inside to show them the movie “Letters to God.”  It was such a great teaching moment to talk about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  We discussed about death and being prepared for what will happen after this life.  We talked about how to have a positive attitude and how to be kind even when someone is cruel to you.  Finally we talked about prayer and what it means to communicate with God.   

District's Best

Many of the Suba Lakers participated in the primary schools District Tournament at Mbita High School on 29th and 30th March.  Fourteen of them played for Mbita West, Four for Mfanagano and Four for Rusinga.  Mbita West managed to capture the championship with a penalty shootout win over Rusinga Island.  The talk all over the field was about the littlest player on the field, Brenda June.  She is a 12 year old from our club who was in total control of the midfield, going around, through and by every opponent who tried to stop her.  Her skills and aggressiveness stood out among the giants.  People had never seen such a little girl play football like that before.    

Out of the 15 players selected from the District to play in the Regional Finals, 13 were Suba Lakers.  The team is training over the weekend and leaving for Homa Bay on Monday 2nd April for the two day tournament where they will compete against 5 other combined teams from all over the county.  Mbita District (our team) has won the Regional every year since it began three years ago so there are high expectations to continue that trend in 2012. 

From the Regionals, they will again select the best players to move on to Provencals in Rongo and again there they will select the best players to move on to Nationals which will be held in Mombasa on the coast of Kenya this year.  The past five years we have always had around 4-5 players from our club selected to participate in Nationals and we hope with success that we will again get that opportunity.  Last year five Suba Lakers helped the Nyanza Province team reach the National Finals where they lost 1-0 to the defending champs.  Four of those five Lakers have now moved on to secondary school so it is time for the younger ones to step up.