| (Tadej Znidarcic for The New York Times) |
Members of the Uganda team were among those
who went to a video hall in the Nsambya section of
Kampala to watch the Saudi Arabia-Canada game.
New York Times
August 19, 2011
KAMPALA, Uganda — Forty people — coaches, well-wishers and players past, present and future — gathered Friday in a dark video hall in Nsambya, a poor working-class neighborhood here to watch the Little League World Series game between Canada and Saudi Arabia.
It was a game that, three weeks earlier, appeared to be the likely destination of the city's Rev. John Foundation Little League team. But there were problems with visa applications, and the State Department denied the players travel documents to the United States. Saudi Arabia, the team they had beaten to advance to the World Series, took their place in the tournament at South Williamsport, Pa.
|(Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press) |
Uganda had visa problems and
was replaced in the Little League
World Series by Saudi Arabia,
which lost to Canada.
I want the Saudi Arabia team to win," said Felix Barugahare, 11, a member of the Ugandan team. "They are in our league, and they represent us."
Felix and his teammates Augustus Owinyi, 12, and David Arago, 13, were among those who jammed into the hall — a small structure reinforced by wooden poles, sheet metal and cardboard boxes on an unpaved street lined by open gutters.
It is one of the few places in Nsambya with electricity, and its 17-inch television provides the only sports entertainment. The players sat without a trace of tension, occasionally smiling and cheering as the Saudis rallied to take the lead in a game they went on to lose, 6-5.
|(Tadej Znidarcic for The New York Times) |
Uganda Coach George Mukhobe,
stands in front of the video hall
where players watched the
Little League World Series.
"It hurts knowing that should have been us," Kirya Arone Jacob, a coach with the team, said as he watched. "But I know we'll have another chance."
Coach George Mukhobe took it harder.
"I keep wondering why things are happening to us this way," he said. "Is it because we are black? Is it because we are poor?"
He added: "You know, some people told me: 'Let's take the gloves, the bats, and burn them. The Americans brought the game to us and now they're stopping us.' "
But Mukhobe let cooler heads prevail. He said he went on a mission to motivate his players.
In the days after they were denied visas, some of the children were too distraught to practice. Augustus, a first baseman, was among them.
"I felt very bad," he said. "Some of us cried. I cried. I wanted to go and represent Uganda."
Augustus returned after a week, motivated by soothing words from his coaches.
David said he returned to practice immediately, at the urging of his family.
"They said to keep playing, that there would be another chance," he said.
Richard Stanley of Staten Island, a part-owner of the Yankee's Class AAA Trenton Thunder, introduced Little League to Uganda eight years ago and has continued to lend financial support to the growth of baseball. He said success by Saudi Arabia would reflect well on Uganda.
"I would wish that they do put on a good performance, because it will also give Uganda credibility regarding its talent level," Stanley said in an e-mail.
Jacob, meanwhile, predicted before the game that the Ugandan team would yet reach the World Series.
"Right now we are practicing and preparing kids for next year," he said. "We won't give up."
Paul Post contributed reporting from Glens Falls, N.Y.