Back in early 2015, at a small school in Jinja called Spire Road Primary School, with 18 children from the neighbourhood, the Spire Lions Rugby Club was founded by Martha Nakale and Idd Soyita.

Nakale and Soyita had been teaching little children around the industrial city of Jinja how to play rugby, and decided to work together by shifting base to Dam Waters Rugby Club.

Martha Nakale with Edrine Lemeriga (now in Jinja Hippos)

It was at Spire Road Primary School in Jinja. There were 8 children but at Dam Waters Rugby Club, we had a few more, I think 10… so I asked Soyita to transfer his center to Dam Waters & join up with all of them, and that’s how we started.

Martha Nakale, one of the founders Spire Lions Rugby Club

The two sought to build a rugby club in Jinja whose foundation was based on the core values of the game of rugby – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline, and respect. The club would have training sessions to prepare for competitions, but would also work towards making a difference in the children’s lives in their communities through different programs and activities.

It is upon this background and inspiration that the Spire Lions Rugby Club was founded.

Spire Lions Rugby Club is a grassroots level rugby club based at the Dam Waters Rugby Club in Jinja. The club’s target group is children between the ages of 5-17 years, who train and compete in tournaments during their school holidays. Once the player turns 18, they get a chance to be promoted to Jinja Hippos who play in the national top tier men’s premier league or development side Crocs who play in the Eastern League Championship, or other rugby clubs that may have shown interest in them. The girls play with Jinja-based Black Pearls and Black Diamonds Rugby Club franchise.

Currently, three of the Spire Lions graduates play for Jinja Hippos while two are with the Crocs.

Spire Lions participate in local, regional and international age-grade competitions for both boys and girls in the U12, U15 and U17 categories, the biggest so far being the International 7s age-grade tournament where they have competed since 2017.

The club is in a strong partnership with Jinja Hippos Rugby Club at whose home ground they train. Jinja Hippos also extend a helping hand in the training through coaches and equipment. Kyadondo Rugby Club, prominent for their strong attachment to grassroots rugby, is one of the great supporters of the Spire Lions, including other organizations like Uganda Rugby Union, Tag Rugby Trust, Burbese, and Connect to Africa.

The U15 girls won gold in 2017 in Arusha, Tanzania while the U17 boys lost in the final at that same tournament. The following year in Kigali, Rwanda, Spire Lions failed to get any silverware but bounced back in 2019 in Jinja, Uganda and the U15 Girls reclaimed their title in front of their home fans.

Kigali was a turning point for Spire Lions Rugby Club. The poor performance at the tournament was mainly due to some players going for individual glory which the opponents capitalized on to clinch victories against them. “The disappointment in Rwanda was like a blessing in disguise because the players learnt what it means to have teamwork,” Nakale recollects.

However, on returning home to Jinja, the players realised that it was their own undoing that cost them dearly and thus, they set to reclaim their winning touch by working as a unit during training, and most importantly, off the pitch in school and at their respective homes.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been no competitive rugby for the club for over a year. The International 7s age-grade tournament that was supposed to return in August 2020 in Nakuru, Kenya was cancelled. And followed a host of other community events that were to run locally.

The club have resorted to playing practice matches amongst themselves and with the Crocs as both teams await the return of competitive rugby at their level.

The joy for me has always been seeing these little children interact with people they’ve been playing with at the end of the tournament… taking photos & exchanging gifts.

Nakale shares her inner most joy with Spire Lions Rugby Club

For Spire Lions Rugby Club, it is not just about playing rugby. The club also engages in development programs for their players through counselling, mentorship, and scholarships for the young children to continue with school.

Nakale opines that it is at the grassroots level where the best rugby players develop. She thus urges the responsible authorities and organisations to come down to the grassroots and get involved in the community so the beautiful game of rugby can grow in the whole country.

The Spire Lions Rugby Club has a dream of playing in the top tier rugby league in Uganda in the future.

Ernest Akorebirungi is an amateur rugby player and a keen follower of local Ugandan rugby.

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