Zawedde: The crown jewel of woodball

Dream-come-true. Zawedde has made her name on the fairways and her daughter (top-right) is making her strides in her footsteps. PHOTO / GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Woodball, which was introduced in Uganda in 2006, is widely known for grooming stars. Yet Zawedde, 35, is one special player who has transformed into the game’s crown jewels.

No doubt about it. Lillian Zawedde is the woman Greatest of All Time in Uganda’s woodball. ven in an arena full of legends, the Ndejje University great still makes headlines.

Woodball, which was introduced in Uganda in 2006, is widely known for grooming stars. Yet Zawedde, 35, is one special player who has transformed into the game’s crown jewels.

Anyone who doesn’t know much about Zawedde’s career and place in the woodball game – four World Cup appearances, an MVP who thrived right in the teeth of Joan Mukoova, Joyce Nalubega, Sophie Namuddu and so many other prime stars through generations including such trailblazers as Denise Nanjeru.

Whenever she steps onto the course, Zawedde attracts attention from fans, reporters and especially current young stars. She has an even greater legacy.

“Her top performances is a testament of her persistence and the evolution of the game itself,” said Onesmus Atamba, a former player and now assistant accountant at Ndejje University.

“Over the course of the game in Uganda, she has attained everything every player would dream of,” he added.

Ndejje has a big presence of big-name alumni of woodball and such plaudits from Atamba cannot be taken lightly.

Seeking a life

Zawedde was born of a Musoga mother and Muganda father in a humble family in Jinja. She holds a bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and mass Communication and Master’s in Marketing.

“I went through many primary schools because I lacked fees. Sports rescued me,” said the Ndejje Corporates player.

At Jinja SS where she attended O-Level on a sports scholarship, Zawedde played basketball, cricket, netball and football.

“I was always on the starting team of each sport I played,” Zawedde said.

Ken Balyejusa, who was then a national basketball team player, taught her the basics before she went on to excel. She reminisces standing on the same court with the Blick brothers, Norman and Donald, who left an indelible mark in her life before she was offered a scholarship at Crane High Kitintale under coach Justus Mugisha to be part of their strong basketball team.

In 2009, she left Crane High for Amazon Rhinos as a point guard before joining Magic Stormers.

Joining hands with Janet Nakkazi, Catherine Armusgut, Sandra Kirabo and Grace Kwarisiima to start Angels Basketball Club in 2013 with the objective of nurturing girls into sports.

Lone ranger

Yet team sports were to frustrate her forever and she had to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“In Jinja, we were good footballers but whenever we came to Kampala, we would be dropped even without trials. I felt so disappointed,” she says.

When Zawedde was admitted at Ndejje University in 2009, hopes of finishing education were thin and she had to engage in sports to find a way. Ndejje offers tuition discounts to excelling sports personalities. She opted to join handball, netball and basketball as the university did not have women football team.

A chance meeting with Paul Mark Kayongo was to change her life forever.

“I had gone to ask for an acceptance card to sit the exams with a tuition balance. So, he asked me to join this new game of woodball,” she recalls.

Kayongo introduced woodball in Uganda in 2006 and it has been on the schedule at inter-university games since 2008.

“My first impression was that woodball was boring. But he told me that new sports come with numerous opportunities. I promised to join woodball if he allowed me to sit the exams. I joined woodball because I wanted tuition not because I liked the game,” Zawedde said.

During her first outing, she was a member of the four players who won gold for Ndejje in the inter-university games. That is when Zawedde realised that there would be countless opportunities.

“Since then I played woodball with a passion and vowed to always be number one because I had already got a tuition discount. That is how I left basketball but kept in handball to get more fees discounts,” she says.

Opportunities

Apart from tuition, Zawedde was on a journey to eternity. She has been to four World Cups and played in several Open events – Thailand, China, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Zawedde, who was once ranked number one in Africa, made her international debut at the World University Woodball Championship in Melaka, Malaysia. She went on to play at the 2014 World Cup in Sanya (China), Jeju (South Korea) in 2016, and 2018 in Thailand.

She also represented Uganda at the 2017 World Beach Woodball Championships in Indonesia.

“Many people have come to know me because of woodball. I had the pleasure of coaching President Museveni and the First Lady. I’ve met ambassadors... such opportunities have raised my profile,” she says.

Zawedde is the definition of woodball in Uganda. She was the most valuable player from 2010 until 2017. Only Joan Mukoova broke her streak in 2015. Yet she has never gotten tired of winning.

“Winning can never be boring. It only creates pressure. Someone chasing you may not get tired but being a front runner you’re under pressure,” she says.

Zawedde says this is the fuel that keeps her working harder.

“I never wanted my name to be down at any one time. Finishing second made me sick,” she says.

In 2014, when Zawedde was named team captain, coach George Isabirye helped her perfect the game, especially patience, ball setting, shooting and the drives – the later her game trademark.

Honours

Playing for the national team is a privilege Zawedde takes with both hands.

“It’s a blessing and a burden at the same time. You know the government has given you money and you don’t need to joke around. The officials are also demanding a good performance. Handling those expectations matters a lot,” she says.

Her best moment with the national team was in 2018 when the team won gold in Thailand.

“Some coaches never believed in us that we could play better but as players we chose our team,” she recalls.

Her experience mattered as she won two of her four games for a team bronze. Only her partners; Sophie Namuddu, Joyce Nalubega and Mukoova were changed in the doubles but she remained a permanent fixture on the fairway team.

“When we beat defending champions Thailand in the semi-finals, I was so excited. Thailand were untouchable. All Asian teams feared them and when we beat them 2-1, it remains the most iconic result,” she says.

The team scooped a whopping 24 medals from the championship.

Unfortunately, the dinner promised to the winning team by the National Council of Sports was never accorded. But Zawedde is happy that the team was recognised by Parliament. The motion was moved by Gen Elly Tumwine.

“I did not know that recognition in Parliament is such an important thing until it happened to us,” she says.

Raising an athletic daughter

To groom more talent, Zawedde introduced her daughter to woodball. The 15-year-old Martha Precious Kisakye is having fun playing alongside her mother.

“I think she should play woodball and any other individual game. If you put in effort as an individual, you excel. The issue of team sports is that coaches can decide to select players as they wish. In individual sports, you have an opportunity to reflect on your performance and improve something you cannot control in team sports,” the mother of three says.

Zawedde, who idolises US tennis star Serena Williams, wishes for her daughter, who is in Senior Three at St Maria Gorreti Katende, to play tennis.

Kisakye is one for the future. She played among the Seniors at this year’s Kyambogo Open, emerging 23rd out 49 participants. She also played in the Kenya International Open last year in Nairobi where she finished 18th.

“I field her in the Seniors to teach her how to calm nerves so that when among her peers, she can have the edge,” Zawedde says.

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