The day had come that we had all been working so hard to make a success. All of the coaching clinics, practices, youth league games, etc. had all been done for this final event. Back in October, Remy and I had envisioned our year-end tournament taking place at the National Stadium. FERWABA was optimistic about Shooting Touch’s Eastern Province youth playing on the same court that the national team plays on and with them on board we knew we could make it happen. We wanted to ensure that this would be a day that the kids would never forget, and this was the first part of it.
We used this as ammunition with the kids, a reason to come to practice and compete every day. I know I speak for both Remy and myself when I say that it wasn’t always easy to get the kids to focus and do things properly all the time. I can’t tell you the number of times I had the kids run for allowing the ball to hit their teammate and not even giving them a heads up. Or play defense with their feet and not their hands. Even still, I must say they gave it their all every time they stepped on the court, and because of that their skill had definitely improved over the course of the year.
We set things up so that the kids would practice during the week and have league games on the weekends. We kept record of wins and losses and by the end of June had the top teams competing in the playoffs. The 1st and 2nd place teams would be the ones to play their championship game in Kigali.
Alongside of coaching and refereeing, Remy and I were dealing with the management part of the final event. We thought it would be nice to take the kids to a pool, considering 10 out of 10 of our kids had never been or even seen a pool. This meant booking a time (which is harder than you think it would be), figuring out where and what everyone would eat, transport, etc. I was also informed that although we had booked the stadium, it may or may not be available and that we would know the day before our games. With that being said, we couldn’t risk being stuck without a place to play and booked a venue with a pool and a basketball court. We would later on take the kids to the stadium so that they could watch a men’s playoff game. After negotiating prices, talking to different venues and making some deals with friends we were set!
We had 3 buses ready to go at 6:00am on Saturday morning ready to pick up the kids and head to Kigali. I went to Kigali early to make sure everything was in order at the venue and Remy handled the buses and made sure they were on time. It was no surprise that when I arrived at the venue the workers at the front had no idea about our event. However, they were extremely helpful and assured me that there would be no problems. Here I am stressing at 8:00am and all they are telling me is, “everything will be alright, don’t worry.” At that point I had to take their word for it and just go with the flow.
It was about 9:30am by the time the first bus pulled up and the kids were glowing with excitement. They all greeted me and walked around the pool, looking curious, excited and scared all at the same time. A few of them got changed and jumped right in while others stood on the outside and watched. I told them to get in but most of them thought they would die if they got in, and that is literally what they said. Some never speak English but when I tried to get them in the pool they looked at me and said, “I will die.” Whether it was my motivation or their desire to get in most of them ended up getting in and splashing around with paddle boards under their arms.
They looked like they were having so much fun, the thought of drowning was gone and there wasn’t a worry in the world at this point. Keep in mind that this isn’t something they feel often. Every single one of them have problems at home, whether it is money, food or family, the issues are waiting as they wake up in the morning. Saturday was a different start for them, a chance to try something new and to just be a kid. It was absolutely the most rewarding feeling I have felt since I started with Shooting Touch back in October of 2014.
As we were finishing up at the pool the U16 National Team coaches came by with their team. We had little but bold Paci go up and sit with them, players who are hopefully his future teammates (although they are about 4 times his size). When I told him they were the U16 National Team players he couldn’t believe it, his eyes widened, he thought they were giants.
Around 11:00am we headed over to the basketball courts to play our championship games. The girls started first, then primary boys, then secondary boys to finish off. The kids competed and the coaches yelled as their teams went head to head. In the end Nyamirama girls and Secondary boys came out with the victory, along with Kayonza Primary boys. They were jumping, hugging and shouting as the whistle went at the end of the fourth quarter. We gave the teams a chance to get a proper ovation as each team was called up to receive their trophies.
The day moved along with a buffet lunch across town followed by a trip to the Stadium. The under 16 National team was playing against the U16 Congo team. Many of our kids thought that they could keep up and play with them (good for them). Afterwards there was a men’s league game, and that is when the gym started to fill up. This was great because our All-star team was scheduled to have a scrimmage at half time. 10 minutes before our time to step on the court we prepped the kids about what it meant to have an “All-star game”. The goal was to show off their skill; minimal defense, have fun, etc. That is a concept they are not familiar with at all. The one time we wanted them to ease up on defense was when they decide to go all out. Everyone was trying to block each other, steal the ball, and on top of it they were playing a zone defense. Regardless, they had a good time and that’s all that matters. I may have been more nervous then they were as they were playing, wanting them to go home with a story about how they played in front of a huge crowd and scored a 3 pointer. Although there were no successful 3’s, the crowd was going wild. Especially when Paci touched the ball. They didn’t expect a kid his size to have the skillset he does; crossing over and putting the ball between his legs to then do a step through finishing with the left hand. I mean come on, the kid is tough.
As they finished up their short scrimmage we headed out and got the kids on the bus. Remy and I were both drained and just wanted to get the kids on the way yet we were struggling with saying goodbye. It wasn’t as difficult for me because I will be back in two months, but I know it was hard for Remy. He really loves those kids and did not want to leave Rwanda. I know he will be back to visit but you get used to seeing those troublemakers everyday and learn to love them. We both bonded with our groups and it’s tough to move on to the next phase of life.