Whenever the name Libondo Shimenga is mentioned, one cannot help but marvel at how the renowned rugby coach has transformed the lives of many rugby players in Kenya, a name that resonates in the world of rugby, particularly within the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA).
Shimenga, a devoted family man with a loving wife and four children, is a teacher specializing in accounting and geography.
Libondo Shimenga’s football love
He originally started his sporting journey as a talented footballer, playing as both number 6 and 9.
His love for football was propelled by his father who was an ardent soccer player and an alumnus of Musingu Boys High School, a western-based institution known for its football prowess.
His transition to rugby was driven by his fascination with a trip to Nairobi, the bustling city that held a certain mystique back in the last century.
“I was a good footballer (number 6 and 9); got into rugby because of interest in going to Nairobi those days. In the last century, I joined rugby as a scrumhalf in form 2, a very tiny boy with evasive skills, then joined Egerton University thereafter,” he told the Scrummage Africa.
During his days at Egerton University, the former Chavakali high School man was coached by Professor Michael Tank Otieno.
Under Tank’s guidance, Shimenga learned valuable principles that would shape his coaching style; A deep trust in God, Discipline both on and off the pitch, and hard work were part of the principles.
‘Coach Shim’ as he is famously referred to turned out for Nakuru RFC in the 90s, he would later land a job with Barclays Bank PLC.
Libondo Shimenga at Chavakali
His coaching journey took a turn when he joined Chavakali Boys High School in 2002 as a teacher on teaching practice, his return to the school after completion of university education was welcomed by influential figures in the form of Maloba Boaz and the late Isiaho Libwege.
It was during this tenure in 2004 that the Chavakali rugby team made it to the national championship, a feat they would replicate in 2005.
He had the privilege of mentoring players like Mwanjilwa Hillary (Kabras RFC), Omuka Allan, Dominic Abere, Jaycox Mwavali, and Dominic Mwanga among others.
His passion for coaching the odd-shaped sport remained steadfast, and in 2008, he transitioned to St.Peter’s Mumias Boys High School.
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At St.Peter’s, the school consistently excelled at the nationals from 2011 onwards and secured several titles.
“After joining St. Peter’s Mumias in October 2008, didn’t take long, in the 2010s we started getting to KSSSA nationals and became a norm, I won several trophies up to 2019. Then I joined Butula Boys National School, Busia in 2020,” he stated.
The tactician recalls the fierce battle between his side and Kakamega School in the 2010s.
Libondo Shimenga vs Kakamega
In 2012 they battled in the county, regional and National finals, and met again in the 15s regional final at Chavakali School with the match ending 6-5 in favour of Kakamega.
The rivalry continued and Shimenga described the matches were always thrilling.
“We were going with them to nationals throughout the 2010s and we were finalists in either 7s or 15s, the games were thrilling and exciting and entertaining; most times score differences were tight,” he revealed.
In Butula, their journey faced an unprecedented challenge with the arrival of COVID-19, which disrupted everything including sporting activities in the country and the world at large.
Nonetheless, the team made a triumphant run in 2022 clinching the second spot in the KSSSA national 7s in their first-ever National appearance and ultimately achieved a podium finish in the East African games.
Shimenga went on to guide Butula to their maiden Western Region trophy 15s and the maiden 15s National title in 2023. In the East African games, the side grabbed a second-place finish.
Conversely, Shimenga’s coaching journey hasn’t been without its share of challenges.
Many of his students come from humble backgrounds and require emotional and financial support.
Balancing the academic calendar and sports programs in schools has been another obstacle. Financial constraints have often limited access to proper training equipment and teaching the basics of rugby to students in their first year of high school has required patience.
Despite these challenges, Shimenga has experienced numerous memorable moments throughout his coaching career. One that stands out is the 2014 Mombasa Nationals Rugby 15s, where his charges st. Peter’s Mumias Boys High School secured a thrilling hard-fought victory against Maseno School.
“In 2014, Mombasa national rugby 15s St. Peter’s vs Maseno score line in the last 6 minutes was 13-03 in favour of Maseno, we went on to pull a comeback and secured a 15-13 win over Maseno, we had guys like Elvis Namusasi and Gabriel Adero (captain), Felix Emuria, Horace, Carlos Magara, Tiny, Denis Zamoyoni, etc,” he said.
Another unforgettable triumph was in the East Africa Games finals, with a 12:10 victory over Kololo Senior School which saw him become the first ever Kenya Coach to win an East African 7s title.
In his concluding sentiments, Shimenga offered some valuable advice to Young and his fellow coaches. He emphasizes the importance of patience and honesty in dealing with players. He insisted training should be on developing skills, knowledge, and an understanding of the game’s rules.
Among other notable players currently ruling the rugby pitches in the country and beyond that have gone through the magic hands of Shimenga are Kabras trio Dan Angwech, Teddy Akala (Kenya Cup winner), and William Muhanji, Daystar University’s, and Kenya sevens Floyd Wabwire, Bethwel Anami (France), Zeden Marrow and Tom Maina.
The most recent one is Rayvon Ambale, a 2022 KSSSA Most Valuable Player and top try scorer with Butula Boys School who recently got a scholarship to Britain. The youngster has landed a deal at Bryanston High School.
Shimenga stands out as a coach who has tested victory and clinched all titles in KSSSA from zonal to East Africa including Winning Kenya’s first-ever East Africa 7s title in 2016 with St. Peters.