Vol.21 No.131

Thursday 26 August 2004    

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News
The softball pioneer

LEKOPANYE MOOKETSI
8/26/2004 12:59:29 AM (GMT +2)

ONE of the pioneers of softball in Botswana, Andrew Mokoto is still following the game with keen interest. While most people would talk football, softball is the sport he relishes most. Mokoto started to play softball when he was still schooling in South in the early 1960s.


He recalls that in 1963, American Peace Corps volunteers introduced softball in the then Bechuanaland schools.

After completing school, Mokoto and some students from St Joseph's College teamed up to form a club that was to be known as Vikings. It was the first softball club in the country. Some of the club's founding members included the late Reuben Boikanyo, Patrick Kgoadi and Marx Gilika.

Since there were no other local clubs, Vikings could only play friendly games against St Joseph's College. The first game was a disaster. "There was a lot of confusion. After batting, a guy would run to the third base instead of going to the first base. We didn't have gloves, so we played bare-handed," he says about the formative days of the sport in the country.

Later, more clubs were formed. "At the time we needed three clubs to form an association," says Mokoto.

The other teams that came after Vikings were Dinare and the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) Club. Since there were three clubs, they managed to form an association.

"We drafted a constitution with the assistance of the UBLS guys," says Mokoto, who was elected the first president of the Botswana Softball Association (BSA). Hisdeputy was Sam Mogope, while Mimmy Lesolle was the secretary general. The rest of the inaugural committee included Mafala Mafala (treasurer), the late journalist Sekgopi Tshite, who was the publicity secretary, John Stoneham (fundraiser), Bob Williams (tournament organiser) plus two additional members Silbourne Sambone and Sergeant Nthoi.

BSA's first tournament was held in 1973. It was sponsored by the Gaborone Show Committee for R50 (This before the advent of the Pula because Botswana was still in the Rand Monetary Area). It was a princely sum by then.

"We used the R50 to buy the prizes. Today, of course, you can't even get a ball for that much," he says.

The prizes were a glove (first), a bat (second) and a ball (third).

"By the time we played the second tournament, the number of teams had increased," he says.

Some of the new clubs were Orapa Carats, Dintshu (Francistown), Smash (Selebi-Phikwe), the Serowe Softball Club and Mafetsakgang from Mahalapye.

During the second tournament, the clubs competed for a trophy sponsored by Radio Electrical, which is now called Holly Radio.

Mokoto says during the formative years, he was a Vikings member even when he served as the BSA president. "There were not much politics by then. You could be a BSA official and still be involved with your team," he says.

However, he had stopped playing and was only concentrating on the club's management.

Mokoto recalls that at the BSA's formation, there was virtually nothing in terms of structure and facilities. His committee managed to acquire a plot from the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) to erect the National Softball Stadium. "We managed to develop the ground and put a fence around the area. We actually built the stadium with our own hands since we had no funds to hire labour. We mobilised teams but we were also assisted by Kgale Mission as Bob Williams was working there. We used their truck to load sand," he says.

He adds that even the building structure at the National Diamond was mainly put up through his own labour.

As the sport developed, national teams were selected to play in international competitions. "We played in the Zone VI tournament. We managed to go to places like Lusaka. We initiated the Zone VI competitions by approaching other countries like Namibia, Lesotho and even South Africa," he says.

"We also managed to send teams for the World Cup games to places as far as Michigan in the United States in 1984 and then to Manila, Philippines. This was mainly done through fund raising efforts. We are talking about the tough times when softball was not sponsored," he says.

The efforts paid dividends because players gained exposure from the international experience.

"When the guys came back, you could see that they had acquired technical skills. Before, we didn't know anything about curving the ball while pitching. But our pitchers later learnt that the ball could be made to change directions. We were lucky to have guys who were trainable," he says.

Mokoto reflects that during the initial days, softball was not well known in the country. "People would stare at you when you were holding a glove. They would ask what you were going to do with it."

He regards the former men's national team player Labbeous Peloewetse as one of the best pitchers the country has ever had.

Mokoto reckons that the style of the game has transformed as compared to their days.

"In the past, the action was centred around the outfield but today softball has become a game between the pitcher and batter," he says.

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