Fungai Muderere/ Nkosilathi Sibanda
MATABELELAND North champions of the Under 15 girlsa�� Copa Coca-Cola tournament girlsa�� soccer champions Simbo Secondary School enter this yeara��s finals of the coveted contest with pride.
The competitiona��s national finals will be held in Zvishavane on Friday and Saturday.
By all standards, the school had slim chances of advancing to the grand stage of the competition.
At first it was the location of the school that posed a challenge. Nestled in the dense thicket of rural Nkayi, the school is one of the poorest in the country.
Nkayi district is known for the abject poverty that is as a result of under development compared to other growth points. There is no reliable electricity and water.
The school kids walk distances to get an education. For the girls at Simbo secondary, a daily routine to school meant a day spent walking, studying and playing football.
Aptly given the moniker a�?Komnyama�� ubambilea�? (darkness rules) meaning a place less developed, backward and uncivilised, Nkayi is no area to groom champions. That makes Simbo Secondary School a team to watch out for at this yeara��s finals.
When the girls from Nkayi were advancing to the next stage at the provincial finals held at Binga High, a wave of criticism fell through. Not many believed their eyes.
Oftentimes rural school football teams are never given a chance of victory whenever they face up with those from an urban setup.
Before Simbo Secondary showed that they can win the Matabeleland North ticket for the Copa Coca-Cola, theA�A� shared view was that rural schools are minnows.
But the girls played their all and shrugged off the underdog tag. Never in the history of the tournament has a school from a downtrodden place like Nkayi reached such a milestone.
In the 30 years of Copa Coca-Cola, Simbo Secondary school wrote their piece of history. Their story of triumph reads like a legend.
The road to the finals was not at all easy for the coach, Fungai Manyengererwa attests.
It has been years of preparing and failing to make it at this stage. He said in the last five years his teams only managed to play in the zonal stage.
a�?We had accepted that Simbo is a school that will never go anywhere. In the past years I have groomed teams that played well but at the end went nowhere. Now this is a dream,a�? he said.
Manyengererwa said given that their school has no proper football ground and sufficient training equipment, he had to make do with what he had at hand.
a�?I took pupils who previously were known to do better at athletics. The girls had no idea but just knew how to kick the ball. I had a group of good runners who wanted lessons on ball control and other tactics of the game.
a�?I remember there are times when the girls would want to give up. They felt over worked and could not understand why the teachers were pushing them to play football. One even complained why they played a boysa�� game. Such was the challenge of convincing the girls.
Eventually the fun rubbed in and they would call me at any time after lessons for training.a�?
Simbo Secondary School has a lot of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. Players face a hard choice of committing to training sessions and thereafter balancing school and home chores.
According to the coach, theirs has been a tale of triumph in an environment that does not offer the weak any hope.
a�?The dire conditions at the school have not dampened the winning spirit that Simbo girls have shown throughout the years. I told the players that they must not consider where they come from. Nkayi is one area that is looked down upon and that affects the playersa�� confidence. I change that and with other teachers we have instilled hope to the kids. We want them to use football as a tool that will boost their self morale. With winning the Copa Coca-Cola provincials, we have entered a life changing experience,a�? said Manyengererwa.
The young gaffer said so far he has been touched by the level of dedication among the girls.
a�?I have a bold decision never to leave this school without a trophy. I want to change the girlsa�� lives because they have changed mine. I see differently now and football is that sport that is going to assist us rebuild the community of Simbo Secondary.
a�?I have noticed there is not much support for the girl child who plays football, especially in rural areas like Nkayi. It is very saddening that up to now there are few businesses that help champion the cause to empower the girl child. This is the reason why I am pledging my knowledge to help these kids.
Simbo Secondary Schoola��s victory run is a touch of class. As the team competes with schools with a rich sporting history at the 30th edition of theA� Copa Coca-Cola tournament, there is no greater feat of celebration bigger than this.
Meanwhile, Somvubu High School will carry Matabeleland Northa��s boys hopes.
The teama��s head coach Phineas Mbayimbayi said: a�?We are going to the national finals for the third time. It is really an honour for us and we are really happy for the boys.
This is not a mean achievement. We are going to Zvishavane to compete,a�? said an ecstatic Mbayimbayi Somvubu High School headmaster Affectionate Siphali is also optimistic.
a�?We have learnt a lot in this competition. We are going there to fight for the top accolade. We are not going there to make the numbers. We are going there to fight andA� make our own piece of history,a�? said the soft spoken Siphali.