Triton! Orion! Aquila! Vega!The air is filled with a mixture of chants from various tents, screams, and jerrycan percussion. It’s that time of the year; it is sports day at Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga. The mood has been set for months and the atmosphere is simply electric. The period of inter-house games was one of the most exciting during my time there, and a perfect lead up to the D- Day. This usually happened in the second term, and was the thing to look forward to.. the people… the meat… and the general excitement for the day. People always ask me what life was like in a girls-only school, like it’s some sort of anomaly, but that’s a story for another day. Today, I’d like to focus on the sports aspect.
I was always involved with the sports department since I joined the football team in senior one. I recall an incident when I got into trouble for messing with the house allocation lists just to ensure that I was in the same one as my best friend. Nevertheless, every year, I helped out in the sports department with house allocation, resource management, administrative roles, the sports year planner, and participated in their activities myself.
The main sports played were basketball, football, hockey, lawn and table tennis, badminton, netball, volleyball, and occasionally, cycling. The introduction of tag rugby was a failure, but it was fun while it lasted. Aerobics was left for sports day and was a highly competitive activity amongst the houses. Athletics fell under the same category. The long-distance marathons,(which were nothing compared to the courses that Joshua Cheptegei is dominating) usually an exclusive event, attracted everyone, both athletic and non-athletic, the latter whose interest was pure entertainment and a chance to get out off the gate. There arose a problem of cheating by some people who’d get the colored paint, an indicator that you’d gone through all the stages, and apply it to their house’s participants who might not have run the entire course. As a result, the previously free for all marathon was sized down to 25 participants from each house.
Another extreme ‘sport’ was the girl guide parade. The girls standing out in blue skirts had the spotlight on them as they marched through perfectly coordinated formations, a small consolation to make up for the hours of sleep lost to practicing for this. Then there was the tug-of-war. If you had Sherina on your team, it was a guaranteed win as she faced down 20 of the other house’s participants. Let’s not forget that one year when Gayaza girls came and pulled everyone like rag dolls. The throws(discus, javelin, and shot put), as well as chess competitions all, happened the week before. Each class was given a chessboard, and during the last week at school, it passed the time well. Cycling was exclusively done on sports day, that’s if the bicycles cooperated. The height of the shorts worn that day shall not be spoken about.
Two weeks prior to two the official date, the phone booth lines were massive as everyone called whomever they wanted to attend with long lists. Old girls came around to show what life after high school was like. It was a beautiful and fun day, but no one could forget the underlying competition. The struggle to unseat houses like Vega that dominated, and to avoid displacing Aquila from its comfortable 4th place. In the end, the winners were announced and trophies and prizes were given out. But even though Triton won, we’d all partake in the victory roast meat and dance.
Another anticipated sporting event was the basketball/hockey open. Schools were invited to play against our teams, and this served as a method of preparation for bigger tournaments ahead. Basketball always stole the show despite the other games slated to happen. The day was not considered a success unless either SMACK or Namilyango showed up.
For the entirety of the 6 years that I was in school, we never failed to qualify for the Uganda Secondary School Association games under the hockey, lawn tennis, or basketball categories. The Hockey team had bragging rights as it bagged the most medals and represented the country at the East African games. Tennis also produced some good players. The position of Mukono Basketball champion was always reserved for The Titans(let the name bear witness). The successes of the top tier teams triggered a desire for the more obscure ones to succeed.
There was a lot of competition to join any school team. The captains usually advertised their squads to the freshmen(senior one students especially) and those interested would join and grow in the team. There was some unusual animosity between some teams, especially the hockey and basketball teams whose events would usually clash, especially when they were external. This reminds me of the cheerleaders. We had a tradition of carrying along with us some people who weren’t on the team to cheer us on, which was very much needed when going to schools like Seeta that had large numbers, and hosted most of the games. Everyone wanted a place on that bus, but only the lucky would succeed.
The reaction from the administration in any case any school team underperformed was good enough to push the different teams to work harder.
The only downside to sport in general, especially during the inter-house games, was the disinterest most people had in playing. This was especially bad when a certain house had a star athlete on whose shoulders the fate of the house rested. She was expected to participate in everything and tune an otherwise mediocre team into victors.
I won’t deny that a number of mixed schools had good girls teams for the major sports, basketball, hockey, tennis, for example, The Seeta Schools, Buddo SS, Kitende, Kibuli, Kololo SS, and Kakungulu Memorial, but it was no secret that someone who shined in O level, once they left the single school life, would drop out of the sport entirely. One could argue that they just lost interest, or developed other priorities, or they’re just wasn’t support for them,… or a host of other reasons… but another problem, another article.
Girls are great sportspeople, and the dedicated eventually become professional athletes, something that isn’t lucrative and attractive. But they can’t grow without society’s support. People I know or played with are thriving on their teams at the university and national level, all while pursuing great careers. A lot might not decide to venture into the professional route, but the passion still burns in them. I’d argue that most of the girls who have succeeded in these circumstances have come from single schools, as all the attention and resources go to them. But in just speaking from experience, and I’m open to having my mind changed. But despite this, it can’t be said that girls can’t play.