KAMPALA- In a way it was strange to see the body of fallen hockey coach William Mukasa, lying still and settled in one place.
In was even stranger to see those around him mourning as his body lay at the Lugogo Hockey Astro-turf on Friday morning for its final viewing. Such is life though.
In the years I have known him – dating back to 2013, he has always been active; either throwing his arms in the air in instruction or uneasily pacing about the touchline as his teams battled on pitch.
He relished an argument so much that resilience of some of his best teams (think Simba 2015 and Rhinos 2018) must have been a reflection of his nature to never concede. Umpires having an off-day and administrators going astray, in his view, were his common target.
Surprisingly he was hardly the one to give his players a public rollicking. That is why most of them will miss his mentorship.
Finding his feet
Mukasa was born in 1962 in a family of six children but only he found a calling in sports. Little is said of his three sisters but his older brother has long settled in Sweden while his young brother Steven Ssemunaba is a teacher.
Mukasa always frequented Lugogo in his early days and fell in love with football first. He played at Spear Motors and called himself ‘Zico’ after the Brazillian legend. He then tried basketball and handball with Wananchi Sports Club.
Later in the 1980s, he settled for hockey with Wananchi and served the sport selflessly as a player till the early 2000s, a coach and administrator.
“He loved going to the gym but sometimes he struggled to balance weights. I think that hurt something in his lower body and he has since struggled to walk properly,” Ssemunaba recollects an incident around 2008 that nearly left his brother paralyzed and perhaps started the long end to his life.
Over the last decade, Mukasa walked with a limp and appeared to have knock knees and was at times believed to have kidney problems, even by doctors (Ssemunaba refutes this but says his brother suffered bouts of tuberculosis in his late life). Whatever it was, it did not stop Mukasa from gracing Lugogo every evening.
“William has struggled in real life but we must celebrate his life because he gave back all he could to the community,” his former handball teammate Yayiro Kasasa, now country manager with Uganda Rugby Union, said.
Mukasa, 57 at the time of his demise, had his way with the new generation of players so much that if you went looking for “William Mukasa” at the hockey pitch, you would most likely hit a dead end.
His players had long christened him ‘Top Coach’ while those that liked to have a cheeky go at himcalled him “Weezy”. And he always happily and youthfully responded with “Ya man.”
One of his players and co-coaches at Rhinos Susan Khainza, said; “he always stepped forward to assist without being asked.”
The last days
For the last four years, Mukasa’s influence had extended to Old Kampala SS where he helped the school’s games patron and his former teammate Chris Mugisha, establish a hockey team. They have played the Federation of East Africa Secondary Schools Sports Association (FEASSSA) Games three times on the bounce.
But that hard work wore and tore him apart. According to Ssemunaba, Mukasa had an operation to cure him of hernia in 2017 but returned to serve even harder when everyone else thought he would take it easy.
“Coach Willy did not have much to offer but he had a big heart,” Winnie Nassuna of Kampala Hockey Club and one of his trainees, said.
Over a month ago, Mukasa stopped appearing at Lugogo and it was reported on February 27 that he had been admitted at Rubaga Hospital. He complained of breathing problems, acute cough and swollen legs.
A week later, he was discharged and it was reported he had a lung problem but his brother also suspects the gym sessions had left their toll on his heart.
“When I visited him last Monday, he asked if we were training well. His legs were still swollen but he was hitting bricks with a metallic bar. The doctors had advised that exercising would help with his heart condition,” Nassuna narrated.
On Thursday, he had a relapse and was pronounced dead on arrival at Rubaga Hospital at 6.30pm. Mukasa, survived by one teenage daughter in her senior four, was laid to rest at his ancestral home in Kyetume, Mukono on Friday. Rest in Peace Top Coach.