Sport gives us one of the purest forms of communication in the world. Transcending language, culture, race and religion, anyone from anywhere can make sense of what happens in a sporting event.
This is part of the message being spread by the International Sports Connection (ISC) in the small African nation of Uganda, where last year 210 coaches and 400 kids took part in a clinic where they were mentored in the game that was born right here on Alden Street.
Sylvia Twesigye, Janet Nakkazi, Sam Obol and Albert Aciko were on campus on Wednesday, Feb. 20, to continue their tour of the United States, where they have been learning even more about the game they love.
“What you hear about Africans is that we are hungry, but what we are hungry for is not what you hear,” said Obol, a former member of the Ugandan national team. “What we are hungry for is knowledge.”
The four coaches have made stops at Texas Tech and UCLA before coming to the Birthplace of Basketball. This is the second time a group from ISC has come to Springfield College, following in the footsteps of a quartet that visited last year.
The basketball program from ISC began in 2012 when Jens Omli (G’04) received funding from the SportsUnited Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Thanks in part to the work of ISC, basketball is the fastest growing sport in Uganda.
Twesigye and Nakkazi are two of just four female coaches in the entire country, which exemplifies the male-dominated culture that still exists there.
“[The biggest part of] being a female coach – coaching boys – is you have to be tough,” Nakkazi said. “I coach 14- to 20-year-olds, and that is adolescence and a time of transition and change. If you aren’t tough, they may not take you seriously.”
The evidence of how far Uganda has come in the 30 years the sport has existed there is in these four coaches and what they are passing on to the next generation.
“Sylvia has a little boy and he already can shoot,” said Nakkazi. “Now he can pass that information on to his schoolmates. It gets easier when you start at such a young age.”
Obol, who played basketball for 17 years, talked about coming to the realization that after multiple championship seasons, someone who truly knew the game never coached him. With the help of ISC and cross-country trips like this, that is changing.
Aciko is the head coach at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and this trip has armed him with knowledge he can share with his players when he returns home.
“I will make it a tradition to end practice by talking about John Wooden,” Aciko said. “Now that I have been here, the Birthplace of Basketball, I will also tell them about James [Naismith].”
Obol ended his portion of the talk by predicting that one day Uganda would play the United States in the Olympics. With the Ugandans’ hunger for knowledge growing with the sport, that is a very real possibility.