ILWT Memories: Falling in love with 18 Kenyans

In these complex times of postponed sports, fans have been taking to social media with their favourite games and memories. The lacrosse world is no different. A quick scroll through any fan’s timeline will show pictures from a player’s youth, coaching, throwback games and, yes, father/daughter TikTok dance battles. It is with all this in mind we ask your indulgence as we personally look back on some of our favourite games we’ve had the pleasure to be a part of as either reporter, writer, fan, commentator or broadcaster. It is the hope this unique look back will provide a new perspective while giving readers some form of comfort in these different times.

The flag of Kenya flies for the first time at Women’s World championship event.

Losing the whole summer lacrosse season in Peterborough is devastating. Summer sports are a way of life for many in the lacrosse-mad city, home of the defending Mann Cup champion Lakers. Games bring families together. Kids learn valuable life skills. People and organizations depend on the income that sports bring.

It’s not just the big names in lacrosse that are missing out this year, though. It’s soft lacrosse to house league to junior and beyond. And it’s not just the boys – the girls field lacrosse season was shelved as well, something that is a huge blow after the success of last summer’s Women’s Lacrosse U19 World Championships held at Trent University and Fleming College.

Last year’s world tournament inspired a whole town, and it all started with 18 Kenyan women. Team Kenya became the first African nation to compete in a women’s world lacrosse tournament. Uganda should have joined them but had to drop out several weeks before the tournament began, leaving Kenya with the solo honour.

It wasn’t an easy road for the Kenyans, many of whom had grown up in poverty, around disease and corruption, and found lacrosse as an outlet to a bright future. It was a struggle the whole way, but worth it. Peterborough embraced the team like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Their shoe order fell through, so two Peterborough citizens stepped up to buy them running shoes. Their accommodations fell through – they found refuge on a cottage on Stony Lake and then at Lakefield College School. They were showered with good food and plenty of donations of school supplies and hygiene supplies to take back home with them.

Team Kenya goes shoe shopping.

And the Peterburian’s kindness was repaid tenfold with some of the brightest smiles we’ve ever seen. Every single team member appeared happy and positive, despite having such a long journey to the tournament.

As a member of the tournament committee, I’d heard the Kenyan’s story before they arrived. The committee spent a lot of time talking about how we could make this a great experience for them. Things seemed to just naturally conspire against them, but the women on the team and their coaches are the most resilient people I’ve ever met, and they made it work.

I got to meet the team a few days before the opening ceremonies as I accompanied the team to National Sports to be fitted for their new running shoes, to cover the event for the tournament. It was so much fun to just watch their awe at the big store – I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face and the girls noticed. Moureen was the first to hug me, in the store, and all the girls happily posed for the many photos and videos I took. After they all had the right size of shoe, I followed them around the store watching as they tried out the various types of sports equipment, and the many varieties of it, too – pink basketballs! Baseball mitts in every size and shape! Hockey pucks?

The team came prepared with some traditional songs, and were kind enough to dance and sing for those of us who came to meet them that day. As they were getting back on their buses, every single one of them came up and hugged me.

I broke down in tears.

I got to see them once more before the tournament began, as the Cobourg Kodiaks and Peterborough Lakers invited them to an MSL game at the Cobourg Community Centre. As far as I know, it was their first box lacrosse game, and I made sure to tell their team liaison to get them to bundle up – the CCC is COLD! Once again they sang and danced for the crowd, and when the game began they made fast friends with the kids from Camp Moshava, a Jewish camp just outside Peterborough who annually bring several hundred very enthusiastic campers to a Lakers game.

ILWT Editor Anna Taylor surrounded by Team Kenya and supporters of Team Puerto Rico at the 2019 Women’s U19 World Championship.

And then the games began.

Team Kenya didn’t just come for the experience: they also came to win, and surprised a lot of people with a 1-3 round-robin record and a 2-2 playoff record, where they finished in 17th place out of 21 teams.

I only got to see them play once, a 15-5 loss to China, as it was their only game on Trent’s field, while they were primarily stationed across town at Fleming. But they came back to Trent to cheer on their competitors any chance they got, especially making friends with the women and parents from Team Puerto Rico, who incidentally had adopted me on Day 1 of the tournament. Between their parents and the Kenyans, the Puerto Rican team had a very loud cheering section!

The running shoes got the Kenyans through their first few games (and the hope was they could be used for everyday use back home), until a downpour had them slipping and sliding on the field against Team Israel. They needed cleats to play properly, and the Team Israel players and parents stepped up and made sure their opponents were properly outfitted for their next match.

I’ve kept in touch with some of the girls via Facebook and they still make me smile every time I see them post, and I can’t wait to cheer them on at the Women’s World Championships in 2021. Especially when the world around is in chaos, the story of Team Kenya makes you pause and remember there is good in the world.