Netball – Game of speed, height, discipline
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/03/netball-game-of-speed-height-discipline/
(NOTE: Across the United States, March Madness refers to National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball competitions – a month when university rivalries are at their peak. In honor of the “madness” of watching American basketball in March 2020 and in collaboration with the Uganda Christian University student newspaper, The Standard, UCU Partners is featuring stories on a few UCU sports. Today’s story is about netball.)
By Patty Huston-Holm
For eight years and while serving Uganda Christian University (UCU) as a volunteer consultant and lecturer on the Mukono campus, I watched a bunch of girls move swiftly around a basketball court, passing a ball without letting it touch the ground. This, I was told, is a sport called netball.
I observed the mostly very tall and physically fit young ladies move energetically around an outside basketball court as I engaged in my own end-of-day exercise – stretching and strengthening my arms, legs and abdominal muscles on some nearby metal bars and elevating my heart rate with a rapid climb up and down stone steps. Occasionally, I would sit on the steps overlooking the court and watch the netballers while chatting on the phone with my mother back in Ohio.
The ladies had a smaller version of a basketball, an object of familiarity to an American like me. But they didn’t dribble it, which seemed odd. It reminded me of the USA in the 1960s and 70s, when girls were protected from over exertion with female basketball rules of no more than three ball bounces before passing. However, these UCU players that didn’t dribble the ball were not frail.
Periodically, over the years of watching the Mukono, Uganda, girls practice but never seeing an actual game, I looked up the netball sport on the Internet. I learned that it started in 1891 in the United States, which ironically pays little-to-no attention to the sport today. My country’s 2020 teams are mostly comprised of players outside the country.
Netball started for men, but then became a mostly female sport. Netball is the most popular women’s sport in Botswana, Malawi and Tanzania. And it is pretty popular in Uganda.
Finally, in February 2020, I made an appointment with one of the UCU players to learn more. The player, Hanisha Muhammed, is not just any university player. In addition to being on the UCU Angels team, she plays for two national teams – the She Pearls (name connected to Uganda’s reputation as the “pearl of Africa”) for those under 21 and the older women’s She Cranes (named after Uganda’s national bird) team. At age 20, Hanisha is the youngest player for the She Cranes.
On an early evening of February10 and on a day when she is not working her journalism/marketing internship at the Bank of Uganda, Hanisha arrives. She carries her practice ball (slightly smaller than a basketball) in a black bag. She patiently answers questions about her life, and explains the game and why she is so passionate about it.
“I was a swimmer,” she said. “But people kept telling me that because I was tall that I should do netball. I’m 6’3”.”
Short netball players are rare.
One of eight children from two mothers and one dad, Hanisha acknowledges her Ugandan family was more privileged than most. Her mother is a hotel owner from Rwanda, and her father is a retired psychiatrist with mostly Acholi, Uganda, roots. Hanisha calls Kampala her home, but lives in Mukono when UCU classes are in session.
In Secondary 5 (high school junior year), Hanisha exchanged her bathing suit and the pool for a T-shirt, shorts, sneakersand a cement court. She never looked back. Her program of study at UCU is journalism – a career she believes she can do alongside netball until she’s in her late 30s. When her sports career subsides, she will still have something in public relations or journalism.
“In other countries, you quit the sport earlier, but in Uganda, there are players up to 40,” she said.
While little-to-no payment to play isn’t an enticement, travel and the lessons of physical fitness, patience, teamwork and discipline are. The sport has taken Hanisha to Fiji, South Africa and Botswana. She maintains her weight with a healthy diet, sometimes practicing eight hours a day. She drinks lots of water and juice and avoids drugs and alcohol.
Some of the netball rules are: Seven players with two defenders and two shooters on the court. Thirteen players on the team. No dunking. No dribbling. No running with the ball. Feet firmly on the ground when shooting. No basket backboard. Release ball within three seconds.
“The umpires do the counting, but so do we,” she said. “You can’t hold onto the ball very long.”
Hitting the net’s pole so that the ball bounces off of it is a highly honed skill, she explained, adding, “The best players know what they are doing when they do that.”
“The game has a lot of rules,” according to Hanisha, who, like other netball players, pulls her long dark braids up on the top of her head for a game. “Few basketballers can play netball, but netballers can play basketball. Netball is about the feet, how you land with the ball and speed. You have to be as quick as possible.”
While realizing young girls look up to her, she does the same with Peace Proscovia, a UCU graduate with bachelor and master degrees in business administration and captain of the She Cranes.
After Hanisha’s graduation in October 2021, she hopes to begin playing more with international teams. Right now, her life is occupied with studies at UCU, playing netball, reading and praying. Financial remuneration is not important.
“Money doesn’t blow me away,” she says. “It’s just not a priority for me.”
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at email@example.com.