FRANCISTOWN: At a very young age, Jurry Manaka’s ultimate dream was to be a great footballer.
However, an opportunistic encounter with softball in May 1997 convinced him that he could excel in the sport. He eventually ditched his initial dream and shifted his focus to softball.
Manaka was not wrong. Since then, the men’s softball national team captain has enjoyed a spectacular rise to stardom and he is now ranked amongst the best softball players the country has ever produced.
In fact, Manaka remembers his first encounter on the softball pitch with unhindered clarity, as if it happened yesterday. On that day, during the school sports competitions, a reluctant fresh faced 15-year-old Manaka was asked to fill in a vacant position.
Then, he was a student at Kgamanyane Secondary with most of the school’s softball team key players away on an agriculture fair trip, leaving the team short of personnel. Seemingly running out of options, the headmaster of the school decided to look for replacements from the soccer team and Manaka was amongst them.
The 35-year-old was deployed as a makeshift catcher and he performed the task with aplomb.
“After the match I was permanently roped into the team as a catcher, a position I played until I went to Molefhi Senior Secondary. At Molefhi, I was converted to the position of shot stopper. I have never changed my position since then.”
At the age of 20, the Mathathane-born lad joined Botswana Defence Force (BDF) as a soldier and subsequently joined BDF IX in 2002. BDF IX is one the country’s leading softball clubs. After almost eight years at the club Manaka was rewarded for his loyalty with the captaincy role, a position he still holds to date.
In his stellar career, Manaka has won the Barloworld Softball Challenge five times (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016). He has also won the annual prestigious Selebi-Phikwe Extravaganza four times between 2012 and 2016. “I have been to over 30 finals with BDF IX and emerged victorious in 27,” he says with a smile.
This year, Manaka was chosen the national team captain and immediately led the team at the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup in Yukon, Canada where they were eliminated in the semi- final. The team was ranked position eight out of 16 participating teams. He singles out the trip as the most significant moment of his career.
“Softball has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me how to effectively interact with others. The traveling I have done
Despite enjoying a stellar career, Manaka says he has encountered a lot of challenges along his journey. He recalls that in 2005 the national team was scheduled to play in Lesotho but due to poor allowances, the players decided to boycott the match.
In another embarrassing situation, in 2009 the national team players were requested to each contribute P7,000 to partly finance their welfare during a tournament in Saskatoon, Canada. According to Manaka, the development temporarily dented his pockets.
Adding to his already flourishing curriculum vitae, Manaka was recently nominated to serve in the Athletes Commission, which is under the auspices of the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC). The Commission mostly deals with issues surrounding the welfare of players.
“Despite all the challenges I have endured in my softball journey, the sport has rewarded me handsomely. I have every reason to be happy,” he says in reference to his appointment to serve in the Commission.
Most parents tend to strongly oppose their children who are fond of any sport. This is because of a widespread perception that children who are more into sports do not focus much on their education. Manaka’s parents were no exception. “Despite their opposition I just persisted. Today they are one of my biggest supporters and follow the sport a lot,” he says. The father of one told Mmegi Sport that softball in the country has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade. He is also of the view that in the last 10 years, the sport has gained more recognition from various stakeholders especially sponsors. “Despite the improvement in sponsorships, there is still need to inject more cash into the game so that it grows to a desired level,” he says.
Manaka’s biggest wish is to see government introducing softball at primary school level in order for children to learn the basics of the sport at an earlier age.
During his spare time, Manaka likes conducting coaching clinics at Molefhi. “I like sharing my experience with upcoming softball players. When I retire I want to be remembered as one of the players who were most influential players on and off the pitch,” he says.