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Cubs ready to roar

While age grade rugby is not very advanced in the country, one of the top clubs, Kenya Commercial Bank Rugby Club, has found a way to promote the initiative while giving back to the community.

Northern Suburbs Cubs, KCB’s junior team, has one of the best functioning age grade systems that has seen hundreds of young children go through the system, some even graduating to the senior team.

The initiative was started in 2007 when the French Embassy decided to spare an extra shilling to do something for children in need in Mathare, Huruma and Kibera.

This prompted a number of former KCB players and officials to put together the initiative, as it would help them give back to the community.

Cubs’ current coach Simon Jawichre, John Ojara, KCB Team Manager Ronnie Kangetta, and Kenya 15s Team Manager Wangila Simiyu are some of the individuals that started the initiative in 2007.

Mathare and Huruma are the areas most targeted by the initiative, as they neighbour KCB’s home ground, the Lion’s Den in Ruaraka.

“We started some time in 2007, with just a handful of players. We got them together through word of mouth, as some of our own players live around and they managed to help us assemble them. We then told each player to come back with a friend, the move gave birth to Northern Suburbs Cubs,” said Jawichre.

The team’s activity was however shortly interrupted by the 2008 post-election violence. Mid-way through 2008, the founders decided to get the players back together.

A junior women’s team also existed by then, but slowly faded into oblivion.

Ghetto pressure

“Life in the slums is not easy. It puts  so much pressure on young girls so it is a bit difficult to run an initiative like this. They quit after a while, but we hope to have it up and running soon especially now that people are warming up to women’s sports ,” added Jawichre.

klm cubsSince the club was founded, the Cubs management has managed to fill in all age grades between 8 and 18, and even have an under 19 side to feed the senior teams.

The U-12 team won their category of the Safaricom Sevens last year while their U-14 team won their category of the 2012 Safaricom Sevens.

The team has also won several Community Rugby Association tournaments.

The initiative has since come a long way from being a junior side to the KCB rugby team, as they also aid the players in their academic life, which Jawichre believes is the most important part of it all.

“We hope each and every one of our players can get a good education and better their lives and their society while also honing their rugby skills. This is why we scrutinise their academic performance and at the end of the year we reward those who excel,” added Jawichre.

This, however, has come with challenges as sometimes things don’t go very well after the young players are done with their primary education.

Some parents insist on their children joining certain schools that do not play the sport.

“At times we also help them get good schools that play rugby among their co-curricular activities, but at times school fees becomes a barrier. We have had players turn down places in Kakamega High School, Upper Hill, Moi Forces Academy among others because the fees was too high. This year, however, we have a player at Upper Hill and another one at Muhuri Muchiri and they are doing well,” Jawichre said.

The club last week got a major boost after airline KLM came on board. Among the things the airline will assist with is meeting travelling costs and kitting the team.

New sponsor

Speaking during the presentation of the team’s new kit, KLM Commercial Director for Eastern Africa Yoram Franzen said the two parties had been in talks since 2012 in a bid to see how best to lend a hand to the team.

“Simon (Jawichre) took me to Huruma and Mathare then and I felt inspired to do something, so we started talking about this. We are doing what we can and we have faith in Simon and the program,” said Franzen.

The program has seen some players graduate to the senior team, and have been tipped to become influential players at KCB Lions Rugby Club.

“We have players like Bonab Were, Steve Wakaya and Paul Ombwayo who are all products of the Northern Suburbs Cubs programme. There will be even more in the coming years,” added Jawichre.