The girl called ‘Madam Rugby’ in Tooro

Sunday September 19 2021
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A group photo of the pioneer members of Tooro Lions Rugby Club. PHOTOS | GEORGE KATONGOLE

By George Katongole

How did you get into rugby?

It is really not a long journey. I started rugby through Tag Rugby Trust with Dorothy Nekesa and Stella Kyarikunda in 2015. I met them through my friend Steven whom we used to train with at Buhinga Stadium.

We had formed a club at Uganda Pentecostal University here in Fort Portal. But the club did not push through because of numerous reasons. Key among them is that girls were not interested. So I decided to continue coaching in schools and at the community level. I have attended a couple of coaching courses at Kyadondo achieving Level One and Two certificates. That is why I concentrated on coaching rather than playing.

As a young girl, I played netball while in high school I was a decent runner. But everyone has their passion in whatever they want to do. I found rugby interesting. So my passion for it was much more than any other sport.

Actually at home no one plays rugby. My twin sister always calls me cowgirl because she thinks the things I am doing are strange. She is a nurse. But I don’t care. I love what I am doing.

One of the people I used to play with is Daniels Mugenyi. We started playing rugby together with Steven Sabiiti and Mackline Nsenga who is now at Tooro Golf Club. Paul Sekate joined us later on in 2016 when we had established a rugby programme at Youth Opportunity Uganda whose director John Cullom was interested in using the sport into the outreach programmes.

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He found me at Buhinga playground playing rugby. That is when I met Marvin Serugo in 2016 and the club started. It was basically the four of us.

How were you training?

It was basically passing the ball around and playing touch until other guys joined us.

My aim was to show up at the pitch every evening. I had hoped for people to pick interest in this game, come ask and try to ask to touch it. That was my plan to get them into rugby.

How did you introduce rugby, a new sport to a new audience that is about golf and football?

After Tag Rugby Uganda, there was a gentleman named John Cullom who was running a sports organisation and he got me from Tag Rugby to join Youth Opportunity Uganda. It was a sports organisation that was aiming at introducing rugby to Uganda. He noticed my talent and passion about rugby and he gave me a job as assistant sports director. I started training rugby in Primary Schools, then contact rugby in secondary schools. I coached Nyakasura and it played in the Coronation Cup 2018 at Buddo then St Leos and a community school in Bukuuku and Kyebambe Girls.

How then did you manage to recruit players such as Keith, who has a lucrative playing career at Stallions, Buffaloes and Pirates as well as the national team in 2019?

I started the team with Marvin, Daniel and Paul. I told them of my vision to start a club and that I needed their support. I needed them in the first place to always show up at the pitch. I told Marvin in particular if he could come and be my co-coach so that his agemates can be inspired into rugby.

We have not been in any competition yet because the first competition we were supposed to be in was the Mbarara 10s in January 2021 and it was cancelled because of Covid-19. But we are now prepared to play in the regional national sevens.

 Who else helps you?

We are a family. We are the way we are. I am the head coach of the club and as the Chief Executive Officer, I am the one who sources for all the resources. A few friends of each one of us at the club come in to support.

How do you manage equipment?

Actually that is our biggest problem because rugby equipment is really expensive. When I started the club, the union was the first to donate five balls and that is all we have. The jersey and the other stuff, we just improvise. We don’t have a jersey yet but we have something uniform when we have a small match on weekends against ourselves.

What are the indicators that rugby is growing since Tooro Lions was formed?

The fact that I have a team that is going to participate in national events shows that rugby is trying to grow. It is a big team in Fort Portal. Many people know us. I wouldn’t call it a small club because it is already established and I have more than 20 players. It is a big club and the Uganda Rugby Union knows about it.

I have found out that people love rugby because we had a confidence building game before ahead of the 10s tournament in Mbarara that was cancelled, we had a big crowd. People came to watch us play at the Arena. 

There was a local football team that hosted us. They were trying to source for us funds to help us travel to Mbarara for the tournament. A lot of people saw us and loved what we were doing. It is actually where we got guys that wanted to join rugby. And from that day some people call me Madam Rugby.

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Our presence has also helped us to introduce rugby in Nyakasura, St Leo’s and Kyebambe Girls. None of them has played in national tournaments so far, which is frustrating. But I am happy they have embraced rugby. I train and they still want me to facilitate the team. They call it “your team” not actually their school team which I have seen as a challenge for me to continue training. You train and then your efforts are ignored. But to be precise, the children want to play.

How have you coped with the challenges of Covid-19?

Of course this is something that has affected sports globally. Everyone is affected but we are trying to hold on. When it is free time to train, we hit the pitch. There are some things we do on our own when we are not on the pitch. We do strength and conditioning from home.

For the players, everyone tries to pick from here and there to survive.

What is your hope for the future?

I would like to dream big. I want to see some of my players on the national team and I am happy this is going to be a big club in the region. I also want people to know about us.

How has rugby uplifted you as an individual?

It is not every day that someone gets to be called a coach. Although the community knows me for something else, because I empower girls with an organisation, rugby has added to that.

Most times people look at women as weak people and more so managing a men’s team is uplifting. A lot of people respect me for that. Some don’t believe it but I am really happy with my status.

In terms of gender, how has the community embraced rugby?

Softly. Women here are not into rugby that much except for those I have tried to coach in schools. Also rugby being new in Fort Portal, it is not something common here, so people have not known it so much. As Tooro Lions we have to work so hard to change that attitude.

What is the community’s role in the club?

I haven’t seen a big role by the community for the club because it is a few personalities like sports presenters that have invited us for radio shows. They have invited us to talk about rugby on the radio. But other individuals, no.

But I would like to call up members from our community to support us. We are Tooro Lions. I would have given it any other name but I named it Tooro Lions. It represents Tooro. It is the only team in the region so, why wouldn’t people support us? They should give us the little they have for as long as it is going to push us further.

How does it feel being someone who has introduced a new sport here?

Once you are passionate about something, you don’t give up. You have to keep pushing until someday it lightens up. It is really quite hard and challenging but it is good that people I have in my club understand where we are coming from. If I don’t give support, they really understand.

What is the most challenging part? Coaching men or finances?

I don’t think coaching men is a challenge because we are a family. We all bring on to the table what we know best and think can help the team grow. So, the biggest challenge is finance because these players need to be exposed. To make it happen you have to help them move to places.

What is the plan for the team?

You can see all of them are youths. We plan to have projects of our own and a facility to be able to cater for their physiological needs.  You know jobs are scarce so if we build projects we accommodate all of them and come to work for a living. I would be so happy. I know they can make it through sports as well but there must be something to motivate them.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

I want to be remembered as someone who grew rugby in Fort Portal. I want to see girls come and play rugby. Some people look at it as something violent and intense but I want to give them skills and be better through rugby. I know I will achieve it in my lifetime.

What they say

Keith Yongyera,

He started playing with St Lawrence before joining Stallions, Buffaloes in 2012 and Pirates as well as the national team in 2013 and 2014.

“When I came to Fort Portal,  there was no club and when I met new players such as Marvin, I was humbled to be part of the project. Traton’s dream was bigger and I wanted to be part of that vision. 

Every coach has a different style. Some coaches are aggressive, others are simple. When it comes to Traton, her coaching is more adoptive. It gives me an environment to try new things under pressure.

I feel in the right place because I have played at all levels and playing here is refreshing.

I hope one day I will return to the national league with Tooro Lions.

Marvin Serugo – Full forward and captain

He is the longest serving member of the team. He is a doctor by training working with Healthy Nation Medical Centre in Fort Portal.

He joined the team in 2016 after meeting Paul Sekate, whom he had met in Kampala. He felt at home.

He now hopes to represent the country while playing for Tooro Lions. In 2016, he was invited for the national team but work schedules forced him to Fort Portal.

He has seen the game grow from being strange yet now many people follow the team.

“I feel at home. I believe sports is about principles. Rugby moves so much on principles and they never change whether in Kampala or in the village,” he says.

All people hailing from Tooro Region need to understand how much the club needs them.

Robert Busingye – player and lawyer

Busingye, who works with the Ministry of Defence, is getting enrolled into the sport. He is a black belt taekwondo player. Rugby is physical contact and it is like taekwondo a lot. He has been training since May this year.

“I am happy to be introduced to the sport. I have liked it, especially passing and dodging,” Busingye says.

He confesses to watching more rugby on TV.

Robert Busingye – player and lawyer

Busingye, who works with the Ministry of Defence, is getting enrolled into the sport. He is a black belt taekwondo player. Rugby is physical contact and it is like taekwondo a lot. He has been training since May this year.

“I am happy to be introduced to the sport. I have liked it, especially passing and dodging,” Busingye says.

He confesses to watching more rugby on TV.

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