Breaking Boundaries: Uganda Women’s Lacrosse Road to Worlds


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Kali Bills is the head coach of Adrian College and the assistant coach for the Uganda women’s national team.

Greetings lacrosse family!

I write to you today with a joyful but heavy heart. How magnificent it has been to watch decades of work toward female athlete opportunity and equity in sport coming to fruition. Albeit we have a long way to go. Uganda and other African nations are decades behind in simple access to opportunity for girls and women in sport and in life. 

In May 2021, I was blessed to be asked to help coach the first ever Ugandan women’s national team in preparation for the World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship and to grow the game in Africa. Three out of four members of our U.S. staff are IWLCA members, and we became a fast family on our first trip to Kampala, Uganda for tryouts and team training camp.

When we arrived on the first day of tryouts, there were no sticks, no balls, no cones and goats roaming our field. To say it was different than what we are used to is an understatement.

Throughout the week, I learned most of our athletes’ stories, some of which were really tough to hear. Some walked over an hour to and from the field just to experience tryouts. Some had their first meal in days during tryouts. Cleats or shoes with ripped bottoms were the norm on our dirt field, and the smiles and laughs were endless.

During water breaks, we danced. The team attempted to teach us some phrases in Lugandan and we ate fruit that fell from trees right onto our field.

Mealtimes at camp were most rewarding as we began to learn about our players, have conversations to break down cultural barriers and learn about their lives outside of lacrosse. It was truly difficult to hear, and to fully comprehend, the hardships that these young women have faced early in their lifetime. Yet when they stepped onto the field, they played the game with such a fierce passion that you would never know they were hurting, or what kind of situation they would be returning to after the last whistle. I have never coached players that played with such authentic joy.

As you may know, Uganda is a poor, stricken country. And we have an uphill battle getting our young women here to compete in late June. Just because we are a "national team" does NOT mean that we receive all the bells and whistles, swag, basic equipment and the budget that the general population would think of when they hear the title "national team."

In Uganda, girls and women often lead difficult lives with little opportunity for education or experiences like this, to play on a national stage. Because they are recognized as second-class citizens, there is no real way out of poverty. Brothers are esteemed over sisters and usually chosen to be the ones to go to school. On average, 30 percent of girls get the opportunity to finish high school and go on to college. Those who don’t have the finances or the privilege of finishing high school are forced into early marriages for dowries for their impoverished families.

So why is this team and mission to get to the world championship so important? This opportunity will change the future of these 18 women for the better and show young girls and women in Uganda what they can accomplish through sport.

Uganda Lacrosse Association, a World Lacrosse member, has sent two men’s teams to world competitions. This team will be the first women's senior team from an African nation to compete in worlds. The first! Not only that, but it now paves the way for continued growth of the game in Uganda and bolsters the chance of women’s lacrosse to be included in the 2028 Olympics. This is history in the making, and I am honored to be a part of it. 

Most of our squad is under the age of 20, and this opportunity to play on the greatest stage our sport offers would be, in its truest essence, life-changing. It will, beyond doubt, change the trajectory of these young women’s lives for the better. This team has so much talent, love, energy and passion, and this experience can truly open doors for them when we make it happen.

But we need your help. Help us grow the game, give opportunities to girls and women and make history with us. Here are two ways to help:

Editor’s note: The IWLCA is collecting information from the teams that are currently fundraising to defray the costs of participating in the 2022 Women’s World Championship this summer and will be sharing that information with our membership and then posting it on its website. If you are interested in financially supporting Uganda Lacrosse, or any other team, information and links to donate will be available on the IWLCA website starting April 25, 2022.

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