A closer look at the list of institutions flying Kenya’s flag at the 12th edition of the East Africa Secondary School Games at Lango College in Lira, Uganda, makes for an interesting observation.
These games, hitherto dominated by the likes of Kamukunji High, Kakamega High’s Green Commandos, Thur Gem, Kisumu Day, Kapenguria High School, Ofafa Jericho High, Mombasa High are now have a different outlook.
The only Kenyans here are the unknown Upper Hill and Kathungi High.
Upper Hill lifted the national title after beating Kathungi at the finals.
This is the second time they are participating in this regional tournament while Kathungi only made their debut this year in both the national and regional championships.
The mighty have fallen, or so it would appear. It is not surprising that the current principal of Upper Hill is one Peter Orero, once a teacher-coach at Kamukunji High, the school that produced McDonald Mariga, Dennis Oliech and Victor Wanyama, who now ply their trade in Europe.
Orero believes that lack of structures and manpower development to keep the performance going.
“The performance of these big soccer-playing schools rotated around individuals who are either retired or got transferred, making it decidedly difficult for the new crop of administrators to succeed.”
STRICT, NEW RULES
While some of the new crop of administrators in these institutions tried to change things by emphasising more on academics and ignoring sports, some killed both!
When the Upper Hill principal left Kamukunji, he took with him football, basketball and netball passion, to Lang’ata High which glowed for a while.
It was while at Lang’ata that the Kenya Secondary School Sports association introduced strict, new rules, which included the 90-day rule – it required that only students who had joined an institution by November 15 the previous year were eligible to play – and the provision that student can only play for a school for not more than six years after sitting KCPE.
The latest directive is the ‘age rule’ that only allows students under the age of 19 to participate.
“The new rules helped tame many giants because they were required to produce original birth certificates, KCPE certificates, dates of admission and year of KCPE, all which can readily be verified at different government offices,” says James Ngugi, KSSSA secretary, David Ngugi.
According to Barnabas Kitilit, long-serving chair KSSSA and vice chair of Regional Schools Sports Federations, school boards of governors, realising their schools were being busted of cheating, went slow on sports, conveniently choosing to focus on academics.”
Brookside marketing manager, Peter Wasonga, who has been on the frontline in corporate support for the school games, notes an interesting trend in the past few seasons.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
“Some renowned schools will spare time and resources for sports and other co-curricular activities in term one, but starting term two, focus on matters education rather than sports.
“This is why you notice that most of the so-called sporting heavyweights are absent,” Wasonga offered.
But there is now light at the end of the tunnel, and ‘big boys’ might soon bounce back following government efforts to ensure all schools take part in co-curricula activities.Justin Muturi, KSSSA chief executive and a top Ministry of Education official, says that most institutions are now benefiting from government’s recent initiative to improve on sports as a syllabus, through the Quality Assurance Department.
“The government has set up structures for improving sports amongst the youth. The main target is to offer a platform for all the students with promising talent to build their skills. We have consistently done this by, for instance, organising school games thrice a year in various venues across the country, partnering with the corporate world to fund the games, improving pitches and courts, kitting all the players and so on.”
Johnson Ikiugui, the Senior Deputy Director of Quality Assurance and Standards in charge of co-curriculum activities, adds that teachers are now motivated to perform in sports.
In the 70s and the 80s right, and even the 90s, Kenyan basketball was vibrant. We even beat the Egyptians and other tough African teams. The basketball league games attracted many fans and the school basketball games pulled even larger crowds of students and grown-ups alike.
Think of Mombasa and Nyeri Baptist Schools, picture St Patrick Iten, St Austins Academy, visualise the Kwale High School team playing without a coach and still winning the national trophy!
Imagine the thunder of Kamukunji High storming the court… who would have thought they would dim away?
One step forward, two steps backwards! That has been the story of sports in Kenya. The bubble burst somewhere and the sport has suffered heavily in Kenya.
“The Americans who were running Mombasa Baptist and Nyeri Baptist and several other head of institutions like St Patrick Iten ,St Austin Academy, Mombasa High School St Teresa’s left a legacy that has not been filled by current crop of generations,” laments Peter Orero, former games teacher and basketball coach at Kamukunji High.
Antony Ojukwu, a Kwale High alumni who also played for the KPA and the national team for years, believes the current crop of young players do not have the passion and drive like was the case when they put so many hours in training.
Ojukwu, who now coaches Kenya Ports Authority teams, says: “During our student days, a coach was not particularly important in player development because we spent a lot of time working on individual basics. Nowadays, players have to wait for the coaches to arrive before taking to the field.” The administration did little in the development of kids. Students were responsible and it was by sheer determination that they made good of their effort.
GOLDEN OLD TIMES
Moses Khaoya, who has been head coach of basketball at Friends School Kamusinga for over a decade now, believes most of the country’s former basketball great schools benefited greatly from the A-level system since they could get already polished skill ready for use as opposed to today when one has to develop a player from scratch.
“It is true that basketball has lost a lot of fans but the reason may be the lack of effort from the authorities. We depended, for a long time, on American help and when we were left to our own devices, couldn’t think of ways to nurture our game,” he says.
But some think differently. Tanzania, for instance, has a player in the NBA, and we still talk of the A-level system of education failing us! A very Kenyan view indeed. That still does not tell us why basketball is practically dead in this country.
Khaoya, himself a very successful coach, says: “Most former basketball mentors are no longer committed to the game and find it to be a waste of time, opting, instead, for other ways of making the extra coin.”
Change of guard at some institutions like St Patrick’s Iten, Nyeri Baptist, Mombasa Baptist, Kisumu Day and Menengai High is also to blame for the dearth of potential as the new administrators failed to measure up to expectations.
There was a rush for academic performance in most schools and sports took a back seat. Some even disbanded their school teams in the quest for academic excellence.
There are more basketball courts in the country now, some built using CDF money, basketballs are also more readily available than they were in those decades when basketball thrived! What is with this inverse proportionality?
Fiba coaches’ instructor, Ronnie Owino, himself a veteran basketballer, has a different view. He sees new talent taking shape.
“Look at Unicef talent centres like Upper Hill, Shimba Hills and Maseno, who are all here for the East Africa school games. It will be very difficult to beat them locally because the players are exposed to some of the best coaches, and have the thirst to perform,” he says.
Barnabas Kitilit blames animosity among coaches for the fall of former giants, saying that coaches waste players who could be future basketball great into playing games like soccer, especially for women, instead of seconding such students to already-established schools in basketball where they talent can be natured properly.
“It is funny that you will find a 6’6 foot girl or 7- foot boy playing soccer or handball when such players could be automatic successes if they played basketball,” Kitilit says. Fred Awuor, international basketball referee and now principal of Eastleigh High School, also believes over-emphasis on academics has contributed in relegating the former basketball-playing schools.
As things stand, there are still no coherent measures in place to raise the dead giants from their slumber, and for basketball to regain her lost glory in this country.
“A lot will need to be done to resurrect the sport, and that must be a collective effort, which must start from primary,” says Awuor.
Fiba coaches instructor, Ronnie Owino, while admiting that change of guard seriousely affected the performance in sports in schools including St Patrick’s Iten where he was a student, says the emergence of Unicef talent centres is fully responsible for the emergence of new talent.