High Schools play a major role in rugby development as youngsters get to learn the basics of the game, test their skills before transitioning to serve local clubs and national teams.
Blak Blad’s Oscar Okaron is one of the coaches who has dedicated his time to develop youngsters at High School level. The fullback has nurtured over 100 players some of which he is playing with or against in the local scene. Some of the top players include Kenya 7s stars Bush Mwale, Alvin Otieno and Kenya Simbas youngsters Charles Kuka and Timothy Okwemba.
Billy Isabwa, Wiseman Aganya, Daniel Abuonji, Brad Nashon, Arcadius Khwesa, Nyota Fidel, Barry Opondo, Dominic Wendo, Chrisant Ojwang and Derrick Ashiundu are other dependable players that he worked with while at Kakamega High.
His first encounter with coaching was in 2011 with Bungoma High. He had completed his high school education at Kakamega High where he won the KSSSA 7s title with the Barbarians. Oscar would guide Bungoma High School to the Western Region Final, losing to his former side Kakamega 13-6. The narrow loss to Kakamega who went on to win the National 15s title spurred his dream to become a coach.
“I first coached Bungoma High. We reached the regional finals but lost to my former school Kakamega 13-6. It really inspired me to venture into coaching as a part-time,” he stated.
- Samuel Mbeche narrates his rugby story
- Longest winning runs in Kenya Cup
- Multiple Kenya Cup winner retires
He says the potentials that youngsters exhibit at high school is what drives him. “I believe in nurturing talents. Whenever I interact with students I see potential and it inspires me to develop their game,” Okaron says.
A year later, Oscar was offered a chance to work with Kakamega High and he gladly accepted to serve under coach Paul Weloba for two years. During the period they put up a strong side that went on to write history. The Barbarians won all the competitions they took part in both 7s and 15s, capping the success with East African 15s titles. They became the first side to achieve the feat in the history of School games.
“I was called by my former principal Mr Oliver Minishi who has been my role model. He gave me a chance to assist coach Paul Weloba. Together we steered the team to win the Nationals and East African titles in 2012 and 2013,” he explains.
His second stint at Kakamega came three years later and together with coach Amos Wamanga they delivered an East African title in 2016 and National title in 2017. He jumped ship to Koyonzo after former Bungoma High coach Eliud Okwemba invited him to help build a strong rugby team.
“I was called by Okwemba, we had known each other through the rivalry between Kakamega and Bungoma school. He was determined to build a good rugby team,” he adds.
Their efforts started to pay off a year later, Koyonzo managed to reach the Western Regional finals losing to Kakamega school. They would also lose narrowly in the Prescott but the fact that the Barbarians went on to blow away their opponents to reclaim the East African title gave them hope that they could build a winning squad.
In 2020, they have won County 7s and they are runners in the County 15s. Their target is to achieve more this year. The former Kabras Rugby man has also worked with Nanyuki High School and their 7s team scooped the Laikipia County 7s title in March 2020.
Besides coaching at School level he has led Sigalagala Technical Institute to a three-peat in the Technical National Games. Though he has worked mostly with Western Region schools, Oscar says due to the love and passion for the game, he is open to developed talents in any part of the country.
He reveals to us that his best moment in coaching was when Kakamega High silenced the then National Champions Maseno in their backyard in 2012. The Barbarians rose from a 10-0 trail at halftime to win 21-10 and proceeded to beat St Peter Mumias 24-8 to reclaim the 7s title which Oscar had last won in 2010 as a player.
“My best moment in coaching was in 2012. We beat Maseno in the Semi-Finals 21-10, they were leading 10-0 at the half time. We scored 21 points in three minutes in the second half and won the 7s Nationals later. In 2020, winning against 2019 East African Silver Medalist St. Peters Mumias school at the county Quarter Finals 10-7 with Koyonzo high school was the best moment” he stated.
The former Homeboyz and Western Bulls back has bigger dreams, he is eager to graduate into senior coaching after he retires. He looks forward to coaching one of the top clubs. He also has plans to set up an academy which will nurture talents to professional levels.
“Senior coaching is part of my ambitions. Am gradually transitioning from playing to coaching with time. I am hoping to be a senior coach at a senior club both at national and international level. To have a Rugby talent academy both for boys and girls where I can nurture and grow local talents to a professional level is my other target. With this the youngsters can benefit themselves and society as a whole, ” he adds.
Having worked with youngsters for years, Okaron believes impatience and giving up has hindered most promising players from achieving their dreams. He advises that choosing a club wisely, cutting down expectations, and consistency is key after high school.
“They have to be patient and start from somewhere. Maybe a good club that can nature their talent. Rugby is growing at a faster rate. You can be a star in high school but at club level it’s different and that’s where the problem comes in. They easily give up instead of finding their way up through consistency in training and focus. Young players also ought to know that Kenyan Rugby is not at the professional level whereby they can depend on it 100 per cent. Those high expectations are some of the things that kill a lot of talent,” he says.
Okaron admits that coaching the youngsters has not been a smooth run despite the immense success. He has to juggle between playing, coaching and studying which is not easy to achieve unless he plans well. He has had to volunteer in some cases.
“It has actually been difficult to balance between playing career, school and coaching due to travel logistics, but through good planning and training programs, I try to attend to them successfully. One of the challenges that I faced was that I started coaching at a young age. Working with students with different abilities of understanding was kinda hard. But I always achieve what I want in a player through patience and consistency in training. As a young coach mostly you have to start with volunteering which sometimes gets tough when responsibilities arise and you have to support yourself.”
Challenges such injuries have also disrupted his impressive playing career which started off with a Nationwide Triumph with Kabras in 2014. A year later, Kabras reached the Kenya Cup finals and won the Kenya Cup title in 2016. His stint with Homeboyz saw him win the Nakuru 10s and later finished second in the National 7s Circuit. He joined Blad at the start of the season and he believes he still has more to offer as a player.
“I still want to achieve a lot as a player. As a player to some point, I suffered head injuries that made me miss some seasons. Thanks to God and also to Kabras family that facilitated my recovery” he concludes.
Okaron achievements as a player
(Nationwide winner 2014, Kenya Cup finalists in 2015, Kenya Cup winner 2016- All with Kabras) Kenya sevens trialist 2015.
Nationals 7s circuit runners up and Nakuru 10s winner 2017 with Homeboys Rugby