Jury Manaka landed in the softball diamond by chance after being asked to step in while the regular team was away on a school trip. Today, he stands as one of the most decorated softball players of his generation.
Manaka started off as a football player at Kgamanyane Junior Secondary School in Mochudi, but his sporting career path took a dramatic twist in 1997, when the regular softball team was away on a school trip. Manaka and others were requested to fill in, but little did he know that his career in softball had taken off. He said he instantly fell in love with the sport, particularly the catcher’s protective clothing.
“After that match I did not return to football,” he said. His coach was the school head, one Mr Masendu and Tshepo Letsholo who is currently playing for Bears. At senior school, he had McDonald Fologang and Joe Moroka (former national team captain) as his coaches. Manaka said the best achievement at school was winning a bronze medal in 2000 during the Senior Schools Championship. Manaka played for Mochudi Raiders during his school days and after completing Form Five, he joined BDF IX.
“I was a catcher at junior school, but at senior school, I changed to shortstop, a position I am playing to date.”
Upon arrival at the SSKB outfit, he found two players, Godson Motsumi and Kabelo Kwape playing in shortstop, where he wanted to play.
Shortstop is a position between second and third base. It is considered to be among the most demanding defensive positions. Manaka said he likes challenges and believes that to be the best, he has to compete with the best.
Manaka started playing for the national team in 1998 in the Under-19 until 2000. In 2004, he received a senior national team call up. Manaka has been playing for the men’s senior national team for 15 years and is currently the captain. He said playing for the national team is every player’s dream.“Being part of it (national team) for this long under different coaches means there is something that they see and believe in. It is an indication that I suit their style of play. I have what they need in a player,” he said.
The soft-spoken Manaka said his calmness during matches and leadership skills are a crucial requirement. The 37-year-old said he has strong support from his family, with his mother calling him before a match to wish him good luck and his siblings, whenever possible, attend matches when he plays. National team coach, Pako Maforaga said he has known Manaka from his (Maforaga) days as a player and had the privilege of playing against him.
“Back then he was not the most gifted player, but he made up for it with lots of speed, ball sense and hard work. I have always respected the man for his all round mannerism,” he said.
“I, however, felt that having to be responsible for others he was not able to realise his true potential. That is why his game right now is mostly academic with very little room for flair,” Maforaga said.
He said Manaka has led BDF IX through many championships. Maforaga said he has seen Manaka sharing his leadership role at club level and in the national team.
“He also tends to be too democratic. He does not like to rock the boat even when he believes he should. The one thing that Manaka needs to learn quickly is sometimes he should be selfish as a sportsman and focus on his game. He needs to concentrate on his own game and get it to speed and his teammates will copy from what they see,” Maforaga said.
Full names: Jury Manake
Date of birth: April 4, 1982
Place of birth: Mathathane
Club: BDF IX