Pangani Legends – James Akweri
For over a decade Pangani and Hockey were synonyms, but what made Pangani Girls legendary in hockey is one phenomenal Chemistry teacher, James Akweri.
Growing up in Kenyan towns and cities most kids played games like “Shake”, “Kati”, “Blada” or “rounders” and if you had a sports pitch you probably also had the option of football and basketball. For Akweri, he had a hockey pitch smack in the middle of the estate and that was his introduction to the game. Little did he know that his neighbourhood sport would turn him into a legendary National Hockey coach inspiring generations of women. Women, he coached like Dorris Chepkoech aka DC, who was part of the 1999 Pangani Hockey winning team, is now passing the baton as the new Pangani Hockey Coach.
Akweri interned at Pangani teaching Chemistry in 1990 and in 1991, he kicked off his teaching career which has now spanned almost three decades; 24 years of which were spent at Pangani Girls High School. In 2014, Akweri was transferred to Parklands Boy’ school, also known as Dr Ribeiro, he now teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) at the Agakhan Academy in Nairobi.
You may all remember the rough Hockey trials where the seniors mostly sifted the stars from the chaff – the torment on the pitch and the intense workouts. But as we all saw, it worked. The best of the best in Hockey constantly brought the trophies home. Not just one, two or three but, “7, a national record (but do we say!)” Akweri remarks comically.
We had a chat with Akweri to reminisce about the good old days of Pangani Hockey.
What are some of your fondest memories coaching the Pangani Hockey teams over the years?
I have lots of fond memories, the tournaments, the road trips, the training, the team picnics, the pre-game rituals (nothing sinister, we called it “blessing the field”) but two stand out.
The first was when I started out coaching hockey, there were some very old goalposts made of timber. Since the school couldn’t afford to buy metal goalposts, I convinced the head [teacher] to buy the metal beams for the frames. We welded and painted the metal goalposts from scratch (shout out to Mr Silim, the Physics teacher at the time, who helped out with the welding and I shall always be grateful). Nothing beats the feeling when they were finally ready in their blue and white splendour. It was right there and then, I knew everything was possible. The goal posts are still intact to date 25+ years down the line.
The other was winning the nationals in 2008 for the last time, it was a very troubled year and fourth formers were stopped from playing, we still overcame all odds and beat much older, much more athletic opponents and went on to represent Kenya at the regional games in Kigali, Rwanda.
I just wish people would understand co-curricular activities and studies go together, we don’t always have to produce a Mariga or Oliech every time, but the skills students learn out in the field, like collaboration, communication, creativity, improvisation etc. are invaluable skills that cannot be fully grasped in the formal classroom setting.
If you were to create your personal hall of fame of the best Hockey players in Pangani Girls, who would be your top five? And why?
I’d go with top six; the backbone of the teams was a defender, a midfielder and a striker. The top two defenders would be Diana Omari (Pango ’99) and Viola Salbei (Pango ‘2000). We were rich with midfielders but Ruth Busienei (Pango ’96) and Jane Munge (Pango ’97) stand out, and for the forwards, Jackie Mwangi (’97) and Elizabeth Muriuki (’93).If that lot were to play together at the same time, we would be challenging for world titles, I kid you not.
What is your favourite quote of all time?
The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.