Bank of Uganda's love story with woodball just got sweeter

Bank of Uganda team members make the woodball sign after a training session at the bank lawn. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE 

What you need to know:

The Bank of Uganda team trains from a small yard inside the bank measuring less than 50X50ft. It can only accommodate two gates. The players converge for training thrice a week – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, to go through the routines.

In 1984, Bank of Uganda was a big force to reckon with in football after earning promotion alongside Nsambya Old Timers and Tobacco in the Uganda Super League. They could last until 1989 when the team was relegated at the end of the season.

In the subsequent years, sports became an internal affair with staff playing indoor sports especially darts and pool inside the bank's premises. But in 2009 all this changed.

Godwin Senyondo Nakaana, who was working with the Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF) as General Secretary alongside his day job at the central bank believed woodball was the ideal sport for the bank staff. He did not imagine it would grow too big to become the bank's main sport at the moment.

"Woodball was ideal for us," Senyondo said during an interview.

Early days

Senyondo mobilised staff for an open exhibition inviting woodball federation technical officials to introduce the game to the keen staffers.

"There was a lot of excitement. We received more than 20 staff members, some dressed in heels while others in their business suits," Senyondo recalls the birth of woodball at Bank of Uganda.

Getting off the ground, the original team attracted four players and they started representing the bank in corporate circuits of the national events.

But because most of the staff that joined was from the currency department, many were transferred. New blood was brought in. Ssenyondo would see the arrival of multi-winning William Osire, Norbert Dramani and Agnes Apio join the team.

In subsequent years, the team would grow to 16 permanent players with 10 very active.

At the woodball awards last season, Bank of Uganda was awarded as the best corporate team for their persistence in international events.

Just last year, Bank of Uganda won the overall trophy in the fourth edition of the Kenya International Woodball Beach championship held at Diani Beach in Mombasa.

During the Kenya Open held in Kakamega in November, their trio of Josephine Nantongo, Osire and Kennedy Mutungisa finished in medal brackets.

But even before such excitement, the team turned heads during the 2014 World Cup in Sanya, China.

They have also participated in the Malaysia Open in 2009, the 2016 World Cup in South Korea and the Kenya Open events.

From the 2015 World Cup in Singapore, Osire won gold for a gate-in-one and has since become the most decorated player in the team since 2014.

He has won both at the local and international events. His medal haul includes gold at 2016 Uganda Open, three at the Kyambogo Open in 2017, 2019 and 2022. He also has a gold medal from the 2018 Kenya Open on top of the bronze in Korea Open in 2016 followed by a silver in the Africa Championship in 2018 and another silver last year at the sixth Kenya Open in Kakamega.

Power of a brand

In the corporate category, University of Kisubi, Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb), newbies Public Service and Bank of Uganda are the top teams. They keep on exchanging podium places.

But the most unique aspect of these teams lies in the power of branding. On top of exceptional talent in their ranks, Bank of Uganda is a powerful brand that is always dressed in official collared polo t-shirts.

“We represent a big name and we must at all times exhibit high levels of professionalism and conduct. When we go out to play, we are aware of our mandate to uphold the bank’s image in the right picture,” Osire says.

In woodball, Bank of Uganda found value which they want to keep riding on. The team used to play in the Corporate Games but had to withdraw their teams because some companies would use competitive players.

“This is the reason we have limited our participation in some games. We are now focusing on improving the wellbeing of our staff,” Osire added.

Building a winning team

The current team is built around the nucleus of Osire, Mutungisa, Fiona Nabunya, Judith Acen, Pamela Kalulu and Nantongo.

Nantongo is a multi-talented sportswoman who also plays handball and pool. She says that joining woodball was the only choice.

“I saw an opportunity to excel as a sportswoman. At the bank, there are other sports but woodball requires a lot of concentration,” she says. “When I joined it seemed a perfect fit for me,” she adds.

Currently the shining star of the team, Nantongo, who neatly strokes her mallet, has won three gold medals just in 2022.

She was top of the ladies log in the GMSEC Invitational, she is the reigning champion of the Women's Day Championship and the Kenya Open Beach championship. In other events, she scooped silver.

The achievements landed her the title of overall winner of the women doubles at the woodball awards.

Nantongo loves to pair with Mutungisa, who joined woodball just over a year ago, in the mixed doubles.

Mutungisa had accompanied the team to UCU in Mukono for the Uganda Open in 2021. The team was short of players in the doubles and he was given a few tips by Osire.

Surprisingly, he ended up winning for the bank a gold medal.

“I had always looked at woodball as a simple game. I was used to playing football at the bank and other physical sports,” Mutungisa, the team captain, said.

“But when I started playing I found it different from the mindset I had and put maximum concentration. I am lucky that I won on my first attempt. I have not looked behind since that win,” Mutungisa added.

Indeed there is no looking back. Last year, when he played his first full season, Mutungisa won silver in the first Corporate Circuit at Makerere in men's doubles before scooping gold in the singles during the sixth Corporate Circuit. This was followed by a singles’ gold in the Kenya Open International Beach Woodball and a silver in the mixed doubles.

A more decent place

The Bank of Uganda team trains from a small yard inside the bank measuring less than 50X50ft. It can only accommodate two gates. The players converge for training thrice a week – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, to go through the routines.

"This helps us only for gating purposes. You cannot be able to make drives in such a small place," team chairperson Nantongo said, explaining that the future lies in having a neutral home ground that can host some legs of the national pool calendar.

As a result, the team is more competitive on grass events and tends to struggle during the beach circuits.

“We don’t have access to the sand until the competition day. Our performances are always spectacular on the grass, whatever surface it is,” Nantongo added.

Before the Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF) secures its dream permanent home in Garuga, clubs like Bank of Uganda have to keep scouring for decent venues. UWbF is in the final stages of constructing a multi-purpose woodball facility in Garuga.

Nantongo explained that the next plan is to strike a partnership with either Kyambogo or Makerere University Business School (Mubs) to secure a permanent training ground.

Despite being well facilitated by the central bank, the team has never secured a coach.

“All we know is what we share among ourselves. We need to work under a coach. Our current training ground does not support such a set up because visitors to the bank premises are limited for security reasons but we need a technical person to pass on the skills,” Nantongo said.

Step up

The buzz has caught and the team now plans to have two players; Nantongo and Kennedy Mutungisa, graduate to the seniors to open space for more players in the corporates.

Definitely the planned step up will not be a walk in the park. More competitive players such as Joan Mukoova, Joyce Nalubega and Christine Birungi, among others, have been dominating this class and Nantongo may have to think twice. Yet she is confident of her abilities.

Nantongo said they have gained enough confidence to compete among the national team players.

“The gap is narrow, almost negligible with the senior players. We want to give a try to the open category next season after the team agreed for me and Mutungisa to play in the more competitive level,” she noted.

Yet there are tougher days ahead. The bank’s players keep moving on which causes inconsistency.

“Most of the players have always been from the currency section and they keep moving to the different currency centres across the country. That is why some skip even big events due to very busy work schedules,” Nantong said.

Bank of Uganda team

Men: William Osire, Kennedy Mutungisa, Bruce Kiremire, John Kyagulanyi, Joshua Lubowa, Godwin Ssenyondo, Emma Engole, Nathan Kiyega & Samuel Okou.

Women: Josephine Nantongo (chairperson), Pamela Kalulu, Fiona Nabunya, Pauline Ndagire, Monica Komukama, Jessica Aboth and Judith Acen.

Notable int'l tournaments

Malaysia Open - 2009

World Cup 2014 - China

World Cup 2016 - South Korea

Kenya Open - 2021 & 2022

Kenya Open Beach - 2022