By Faith Munezero
It’s the beginning of the year and there is a lot of activity on the yellowing grass field, most likely a side effect of the January heat. Some girls and boys are holding bats while others take their run up to make a delivery. Clad in sportswear, braving the scorching hot sun, both kids and coaches are hard at work sweating to get their game on – making the most of the three weeks at the high performance camp as coaches Tembo, Bakunzi and Oyaga take the ladies through some physique, bowling and batting drills.
When it comes to social media, their accounts are the most active with daily updates from what’s happening in the cricket playing land of Soroti, second only to the Cricket Uganda account itself. They will fill your timelines with pictures and videos of girls and sometimes boys, driving a shot or two while another picture will show the hardworking lads and lasses, offside the dusty wicket, seated in two neat lines of fourteen with each opposite other huffing and puffing in their attempt to execute the reverse crunches and leg raises as instructed.
This is just one of the numerous activities that the Soroti Cricket Academy has running throughout the year in the quest to fulfil one objective: Empowering the youth and future generation of Uganda using Cricket. With all the strides being made, one would assume that these camps have been happening for a while, but December 2017 was when it debuted. But what inspires this drive? How did it all begin?
In light of the progress Uganda Cricket association (UCA) along with Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) have made to spread the game to every corner of the country, Soroti has made strides over the last decade to stand out. Their progression has seen them start up an academy that has just hit its first boundary milestone (four years) under the patronage of Felix Musana.
Established in 2014, the academy based in the Teso sub region was started with just a single bat, one hard ball and a pair of gloves fueled by the passion of three girls in Soroti, with the desire to participate in the Schools’ Cricket Week.
“They had a lot of passion and lacked the equipment and I told myself that I should get the above the next time I am in Kampala,” says Felix Musana, founder and director of Soroti Cricket Academy.
And that he did. Together with Peter Ojangole, an Old Boy of cricket hub Busoga College Mwiri, the two birthed the idea in February that same year but it was not until seven months later that the academy was legally incorporated.
At the inception the idea was to introduce cricket in a place where it had not been famous, however, Felix and company got to learn that they were going to face some societal problems as well. In the teso region alone over 17% of girls between the age of 12-19 have had a child before with 12% of the same age group having been married before. Therefore a very big number of girls were either getting married early or having a child even before they were over 20.
Early marriage and pregnancy is one of the biggest challenges for girls in this region and cricket has helped in keeping them focused. Our Challengers opening bowler in her S.5 is pregnant and three girls became mothers before 18 last year stated Felix.
The Soroti Cricket Academy begun with just one school, having 20 cricketers, but to date it supports 200 cricketers in secondary schools and 300 in primary school, all situated in Soroti. With the pioneer group as girls, it is no surprise that majority of those in the academy are female, but this was because it originally started as out promoting girls in the sport to help alleviate the marginalization of the girl child in the region by empowering them through cricket. However, it has now branched out to include boys as well with their own cricket club, the Soroti Blazers who participate in the men’s domestic competitions while Olila High School and Soroti Challengers CC represent in the women’s league.
The Soroti Cricket Academy has enjoyed significant success with their first fruits going on to become a force to reckon with in both the women’s and men’s domestic league contests. Olila High School and Soroti Challengers have gone on to assert their authority as heavy contenders in their respective divisions. The teams have gone on to win accolades on both individual and team basis be it the schools’ cricket week or national league, with Olila High in particular scooping their most prestigious award yet – Champions of the T20 Mehta Premier League in their maiden appearance in 2017. The two teams have gone on to become top flight contenders in their divisions, with Soroti Challengers beating all to the single promotion slot, joining their sisters in division one. While the Soroti Blazers Club finished second in the men’s division two league.
With all the hard work they have put in, the ladies from the Teso sub region are giving Kampala and Jinja a run for their talent, so to speak. A lot of talent is emerging from the region, so much so that as many as four ladies from the academy have featured in the women’s national team commonly known as the Lady Cricket Cranes, going on to represent the Pearl at various international cricket tournaments while six of them are in the provisional 30 ladies’ squad.
It is almost difficult to imagine so much progress and achievement in a such a short time span, which is why the Soroti Cricket Academy has continuously stood out amongst the different cricket development programs all over the country. What is even more difficult to imagine is the fact that most of the funding that runs their activities are through the academy board and good will contributions from a few generous people.
In a country where the gentleman’s game is more or less a self-sacrificing sport, the academy does not have the steady supply of resources that its growing list of accomplishments may lead one to believe. Relying on support from mostly friends and well-wishers, the academy has been able to run its activities year in and out. One of the ways is through hosting fundraising events such as the inaugural Soroti Cricket Carnival last year on 22nd December. With the only entry requirement being a Soroti Academy branded t-shirt that went for only USD 6.76 or shs 25000, all in attendance were treated to cricket talent, four years in the making.
Like all determined folk, the academy heads have persisted and prevailed powered by their vision to see the youth empowered in their homeland. Their drive to see the girl child in school has led them to provide at least 25 bursaries in Olila High School and Light Secondary School with five boys from Mukono Parents School benefiting too. Believing that education is the key to success, the academy has donated over 200 books through St Benard publishers in primary schools while supporting the fight against gender based violence in both primary and secondary schools.
And with the growing child, career guidance has become necessary in shaping the future of tomorrow’s leaders, which is why the academy has worked with about 600 cricketers all over the country, to help in this area through coaching sessions in various primary and secondary schools.
Like a mustard seed, the tree is beginning to take root and the fruit is evident in the various players on both the domestic and international leagues, which begs the question, what could be done to help grow the sport, particularly at grass root level?
Felix shared some thoughts, summarized in three points:
- Take it to the communities. Break out of the norm of the sport being known solely amongst cricket playing schools. Ensure that mini cricket runs up to national level.
- Bring regional cricket on board. With cricket spreading to Kasese, and now Soroti can we see it go to Gulu, Lira, Kabale, Hoima or even Mbale?
- Introduce cricket in Primary Teachers’ Colleges and National Teachers’ Colleges. Why? It is because the teachers that come from those setups with cricket knowledge can then spread it all over.
It is safe to say that this idea that started with just one bat, ball and a pair of gloves is already making its mark on the next generation through one of the biggest influences in the country, namely sport, the gentleman’s game in particular. The journey continues for the Soroti Cricket Academy, and hopes to build on its success.
Felix added, “The future is bright. Cricket is becoming very popular in the region. It is now about ensuring that the facilities are developed so that we have quality cricketers coming through the system.”