September 24, 2013

A Hometown Win

This past weekend the Suba Laker Junior Girls won the CRADLE Tournament in Mbita town.  CRADLE is an organization dedicated to children’s rights.  Each year they host a football tournament in Mbita which is largely geared towards boys.  This year they had over 30 boys teams participate in the 5-day tournament.  Unfortunately, the girls were just an afterthought.  It took a lot of convincing to get them to permit the girls to play on the last day.  With only one day notice the CRADLE organizers were able to find 4 local teams to play in a mini tournament.  

In our first match, we played against some older ladies called Mbita Lakeside.  It didn’t take long for us to gain control of the match as Primerose Achieng dribbled through 2 defenders and scored a classic goal in the opening minutes.  A few minutes later, Lucia Awino added to the total with a nice free kick from just outside the box.  In the 12th minute Lencer Adoyo kicked a rocket from 25 feet that landed in the top right corner of the goal.  Shortly thereafter Lencer provided a great cross to Mourine Owiti who closed out the first half with a goal.  

Already leading by 4 goals, the Lakers kept the pressure on in the 2nd half with a goal in the 6th minute  by Brenda June.  In the 9th minute Lucia scored her 2nd goal on another free kick.  In the 12th minute Lucia completed her hat-trick with a penalty shot.  In the 15th minute June added her 2nd goal with a beautiful dribbling exhibition and finish.  The final goal of the match was scored by striker Phylice Akoth who used her speed to race past the defense and place a shot beyond the reach of the hapless goalkeeper.  

The match ended 9-0 and the hometown crowd couldn’t stop talking about it.  They didn’t know a team of girls could score so many goals in such a short match.  The Suba Lakers don’t get many opportunities to play in front of their hometown fans especially with such a big crowd, so it was fun for them to enjoy the moment. 

The finals didn’t go quite as easily.  Facing a determined Kamgere team from Rusinga Island, the Lakers thought they would have another simple win, but it ended up being much more difficult.  They controlled the ball and created chances, but couldn’t make the final play to score.  As the game wore on, the players got more frustrated and started pressing.  Even the fans were expecting a lopsided victory and were getting restless.  No team could break the deadlock and the match ended 0-0.  In the post-match penalty shootout, all of the five Suba Lakers scored their penalty kick and goalkeeper Lillian Awuor blocked the last two shots to seal the victory and give the Lakers the Championship.  

The theme of the tournament was “Kicking Child Abuse out of Kenya”.  The main aim was to use sports to attract many people, especially youth, to sensitize them on their rights and what they should do if their rights are abused.  

As for the awards for the top teams, the organization was prepared to give out many prizes to the boys teams; including trophies, uniforms, balls and money.  Since they hadn’t planned for a girls match, they didn’t bring awards or prizes for the girls.  We were awarded with 1 ball; only.  Yet, we’re grateful for the 1 ball as we have a great need of quality, well-made balls.  

The Mbita Member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo graced the occasion and during her speech spoke that we must all strive for gender equality.  She directly stated to the CRADLE organizers that whatever awards and prizes were given to the boys, should also be given to the girls.  Following her speech, the girls were promised a trophy, a cash prize, t-shirts, and uniforms.  We’re extremely grateful to have a local MP who is concerned about these equalities!  We are hoping the organization will follow through so that the girls can receive what they earned, and more importantly, what they deserve as equals with the boys!   

September 5, 2013

My Choice, My Future

The Kisumu Youth Football Association (KYFA) hosts a Nationwide Girls Tournament each year, located in the city of Kisumu.  This tournament attracts competitive teams from Nairobi, Eldoret, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kitale and other parts of Kenya.  In past years, we have always brought a team to compete in the Open Age category and a team to compete in the Under 15 age category.  Because most of the secondary girls had just finished a long school football season, we decided to focus on the younger ones and only brought an Under 15 team.  We’ve participated in this tournament for the past four years, and each year our team reached the semifinals; winning it the first year and finishing in third place every other year.  This year we wanted to strive to regain the 1st place trophy which we believe we deserve as one of the best young teams in the country. 
In sticking to the Suba Laker way of playing by the rules and regulations of each tournament, we are careful about only bringing players that fit into the age category.  Our players must have birth certificates that confirm they are Under 15 years old.  This means that we often are forced to leave some very good players off the team because they are a little too old.  Often times, it seems like we are the only team which upholds to this value of sticking to the rules.  We always find other teams having players who are much older than the designated age. 

For this tournament, the matches are played on smaller fields with smaller goals and only 7 players on a side.   This allows younger players the opportunity to be more involved in the game, with each player getting more ball touches in the match.  With fewer players on the pitch, it is important for each one to be a quality player!
Our young players were up for the challenge and on the first day of preliminaries we managed two wins, both 1-0 on goals by our youngest and smallest player, Brenda June.  Those results put us on top of the pool, tied with Port Florence.  We met Port Florence in the first match on the 2nd day.  Even though they were much bigger and older, our girls managed to control the ball possession and dominated the game, though we found it difficult trying to score in the smaller goals.  In the closing minutes, Port Florence took a shot from outside the box, and our goalkeeper mishandled the easy ball to give them a 1-0 victory.  She played great the whole tournament and only allowed that one goal, but unfortunately it cost us dearly.  In the final match we needed a 2-0 victory to clinch 2nd place in the pool and qualify for semifinals but we came up just short.  It was painful to watch one of the teams we defeated the first day, a skilled team from Nairobi, make it all the way to the finals. Sometimes- that’s just how sports go!

The most positive outcome of the KYFA tournament was what happened off the field.  This year’s theme was, “My Choice, My Future.” They brought in guest speakers to share with all of the teams about the importance of having positive relationships, abstaining from sex until marriage, and making wise choices to build a better future.  The girls were challenged on many different levels and were able to share many different things that they learned and want to apply to their lives.  Mary Lucy, one of our older girls who finished high school last year, was taking care of the younger girls in the classroom where they were sleeping.  She was also able to share devotions with them each night and each morning, and spend time in prayer and worship. Though we didn’t take home any trophy, these girls benefited very much from participating in the KYFA tournament; and really enjoyed the journey across the lake.  

Champions Battle in Oyugis

The same day that the KYFA Tournament was finishing in Kisumu, we were expected in Oyugis (a 2 hour drive) for another nationwide tournament run by Society Empowerment Project (SEP).  In this tournament, there were teams from Thika, Nairobi, Kisumu and other places.  We didn’t get a good drawing for the pools and were in a 3-team pool with two of the best teams.  In our first match we played the defending champs, Kayole from Nairobi.  Their team is loaded with good players from around the nation’s capital; several of them also play on the Kenyan National Team.  We played with three of our primary girls and eight secondary school girls.  It was a hard fought match, but both teams failed to score and settled for a scoreless draw.  That result qualified Kayole for the semifinals and put us in a good position to qualify with a win or draw in our final group game.  The only problem is we were facing a very strong team who also happened to be the hosts, SEP.  Two years ago we beat the SEP team in the finals to win the trophy and take back to Mbita. However, this time around, they are older and much better than two years ago.  Our girls jumped on top with two early goals by Pauline to take a 2-0 lead.  Towards the end of the 1st half, SEP received a rather dubious penalty kick from their hometown referee and pulled within a goal.  The second half was pretty tense and we weren’t getting many breaks, but with a lot of grit and determination, we held on for a 2-1 win to tie atop the group.  Because of goal difference, we took the 2nd seed and faced the #1 seed from the other pool in the semifinals.

The semifinals weren’t as tough as our group games.  We dominated Kasagam from Kisumu right from the opening whistle and it finally paid off with a great goal in the opening minutes of the 2nd half.  We were awarded a free kick outside the box and Irine Achieng placed a beautiful left-footed looping shot towards the far post of the goal.  It sailed past the jumping goal keeper’s hands and Sharon Bismark leaped higher than the defender covering her for a perfect header into the back of the net.  Kasagam never really had a serious threat on goal after that and we emerged as the winner, ready to face Kayole once again in the finals.  It was a matchup of the previous two Champions; Suba Lakers in 2011 and Kayole in 2012. 

The finals resembled the first group match, but this time there was even more effort and determination from both sides to take home the winner’s trophy.  In the first half both teams had multiple shots on goal, but the game settled down in the second half and the defenses got more stingy.  As the match was winding down, both teams were settling in to the reality that it would come down to post-match penalty kicks, but in the dying minutes a mistake cost the Suba Lakers.  On a Kayole throw-in, the Lakers midfield relaxed for a moment and left the opponent unmarked.  That player scooted through the midfield and laid a beautiful pass through the back defenders.  Our goalkeeper recognized that the defense was beaten and raced to the ball, but she was a second too late as the striker chipped it over her head.  With less than two minutes remaining we didn’t have a chance to mount a comeback.  It was discouraging, but still a good showing for our girls who haven’t played or trained together very much during the school year. 

While what’s happening on the pitch is often the focus of a tournament, we were grateful the girls were blessed with a special speaker. Margaret Belewa is the East Africa Regional Coordinator for Street Football World, a world-wide NGO dedicated to sustainable social change using football to support development and education.  Margaret shared her personal life story with the girls, which included being brought up in a very humble home, much the same as our girls.  She didn’t receive her first pair of shoes until she entered secondary school.  She shared with the girls the importance of not only having dreams in life, but also setting goals.  She challenged them to consider how their daily choices affect their future.  She’s a very successful Kenyan woman who our girls can look to as an example, yet she wasn’t handed her success.  She worked hard and taught our girls that “You can make it- if you work hard.”


On September 2nd, our secondary girls returned to their various boarding schools for the last term of the school year, and we won’t see them again until the end of November.  In September, October and November we will be focusing on the primary school girls from around Mbita town.