September 21, 2001. Sports.
Shaken but safe
By Carl Bialik
Mujib Kasule was in his off-campus house in Normal, Alabama Tuesday morning when he learned of the events that shook this nation from normalcy.
"I'm usually watching CNN until I go to bed, so in the morning, when I switch on my TV, it's always on CNN," said Kasule, the former KCC striker and current captain of the Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University (Alabama A&M) soccer team. "I was putting on my shoes and getting ready to go to school when I heard the news about the first crash."
CNN was reporting about the Boeing 767 that plunged into Tower 1 of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. This was only the start of a chain of events which included a plane crashing into Tower 2, the collapse of the two trade center towers, a plane crashing into the Pentagon (Arlington, Virginia, 2), and a plane crashing in rural Pennsylvania (Somerset, 3). However, in his rush to class, Kasule somehow didn't take the news of that first crash seriously.
Ronald Mugabi -- former Villa midfielder and current rookie at Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio (4), 1,060 kilometers northwest of Normal (5) -- also saw the news on television in the morning. And he, too, somehow attended his morning classes, in a daze.Kasule and Mugabi are two of the dozens of Ugandan footballers who are playing for university or professional squads around the United States.
None live in the immediate vicinity of Tuesday's terrorist attacks, The Monitor believes, but all were surely shaken that day, and most scrambled to call their families in Uganda to assure them they were safe.
Tiffin and Alabama A & M are both at least 400 km from all crash sites.
In addition to Tiffin and Alabama A & M, U.S. universities with Ugandan soccer players include Martin Methodist, Virginia Intermont,
Alabama-Huntsville, and Marshall.
Ugandan professionals include David Obua, in Wilmington, North Carolina; Sulaiman Tenywa, in Columbus, Ohio; and Peter Byaruhanga, in Kansas City. Byaruhanga had no games scheduled until Sept. 16,
Kasule's first class that day was supposed to be strategic management, but after his teacher announced the second plane crash at the Trade Center, the class devolved into a discussion of the day's events and was cancelled soon after. Kasule, a senior, returned to his house to watch the events unfold on television and to monitor the phones.
Joining him for most of the day were his seven Ugandan teammates: seniors Arthur Byasiima, midfielder, and Aggrey Bigala, defender; junior James Ssemambo, goalkeeper; and sophomores Eugene Sepuya, striker, Jamil Kayondo, defender, Andrew Jjombwe, goalkeeper, and Wilbur Musika, defender.
Jjombwe and Musika transferred to Alabama A &M this year. When this reporter spoke to Jjombwe and Musika in Kampala this summer, when they were still struggling to receive their U.S. entry visas, both were very eager to attend university in the U.S.
"All along I've been studying in Uganda," Musika, formerly of KCC, said Aug. 3. "I've traveled to almost all countries in Africa. I want to go and change my ideas, change my life. I want to get those facilities that are missed here."
"My most important interest is, I want to get the degree, because it will give me better opportunities here," Jjombwe, formerly of Villa, said July 22.
The two arrived in the country on August 31, after the team's season started. Two weeks later, the illusion of security in their new host country was shattered. "They were in shock. They were not expecting that to happen, especially in America," Kasule said of his two new teammates. "They suffered grief more than anyone else."
Of course, all the players were shaken. "We tried to reach friends from different states and families from back home," Kasule said. "We were trying to discuss the possibilities of why things like that happen."
Tenywa had called Kasule the night before and left a message on his answering machine informing him that he and his team, Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew, would be flying to Colorado Tuesday morning for a Wednesday night game against the Rapids. Kasule realized that Tenywa's flight was scheduled to be in the air at the time that the Federal Aviation Authority shut down all air traffic in the country, so he tried calling his friend's cell phone. Two anxiety-ridden hours later, he got through. Tenywa's plane had touched down in Birmingham, Alabama, just 170 kilometers from Normal.
Kasule was also relieved to reach his friend in New York, Benard Okongo, and his relatives in Boston, New Jersey, and Ohio, who were all safe. His relatives in London were, in turn, pleased to hear from him. "My sister, she was really worried," Kasule said.
Kasule had a message for Ugandans: "I want all my family and friends back home to know I'm OK. Send my love. All the guys here are fine. We wish you well."
At Tiffin, classes and soccer practice went on, but Mugabi tried to follow the day's events. "Of course, I was scared," he said. "I tried to call home. I knew they were worried about me. I told them there was no problem."
Wednesday, Kasule attended two of his classes, but again all discussion centered on Tuesday's attacks. The Trade Center collapses' effects had reached as far as Normal. "One girl in my class had an in-law working in one of the buildings. They haven't found him yet," Kasule said. "My teacher had two in-laws, one working in each tower. One of them had left the building 30 minutes earlier, but the other she didn't know about."
Amidst all the confusion in the country, the soccer will eventually go on.
For Kasule and his Bulldogs, the resumption of play will come sooner than he would like. Their Tuesday game against Alabama-Huntsville was cancelled, of course. But a California team pulled out of a tournament in Louisville, Kentucky (6) scheduled for the weekend, because of the limits on air travel, and Alabama A & M may replace them and play games on Friday and Sunday.
"I'm very hesitant, especially now," Kasule said. "But it's school duty. I have to do it." He is not sure the team will be ready. "We are trying to get ourselves back in the mood," he said, "but deep inside I don't think it will happen until next week, maybe."
The Ugandan-rich Bulldogs started the season well, at 3-1-1. Jjombwe started in goal for those last two games and excelled before being injured in the second game, Kasule said. He added that Musika was playing well, although he had some difficulty at first adjusting to the physical nature of the U.S. university game.
Tiffin was also set to resume play this weekend. Mugabi, Ugandan teammate Ali Lukungu, and the Dragons were going to drive almost 600 kilometers to New York State on Thursday to play a Friday game against Roberts Wesleyan.
The school is in Rochester, more than 500 kilometers from the site of the World Trade Center collapse.
Mugabi and Lukungu have starred in Tiffin's 4-0-0 start, with Mugabi scoring six goals and Lukungu, a striker, scoring five. The game between No. 17 Tiffin and No. 6 Roberts Wesleyan, also 4-0-0, had been regarded as a key American Mideast Conference matchup. Now, though, no sporting event could seem significant.Copyright © 2002 Carl Bialik
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