• Openda says his love for hockey begun when he was a pupil at Kisumu’s Goan Primary School (now Xaverian) in the early ‘70s, where he was a goalkeeper.
• I was employed by Posta due to my basketball skills and this meant that I had to move to Nairobi, where the team was based — Openda.
For many years, Jos Openda has been a household name in the Kenyan hockey scene, winning numerous accolades both at home and on the continental front.
He is arguably the most successful hockey coach in the country, having won 13 national and eight continental titles with the now-renamed Telkom side.
Telkom rebranded to Blazers a year ago following the departure of long-time sponsors Telkom Kenya, a government parastatal.
Apart from the national and regional accolades, Openda also boasts of three Sports Personality of the Year (Soya) trophies, winning the coach of the year award in 2014 and 2016 and finishing runners up in 2018.
Openda says his love for hockey begun when he was a pupil at Kisumu’s Goan Primary School (now Xaverian) in the early ‘70s, where he was a goalkeeper.
It blossomed at Kisumu Boys High School under Aridhaman Singh, who saw him switch from goalkeeper to an accomplished midfielder, helping his school to the national title in 1978, after beating Uasin Gishu 2-1 in the final played at Nairobi School.
After completing high school, he moved to Kisumu Sikh Union (Simba Union/Kibos Simbas).
“It was at the club where I learnt a lot. I made the Nyanza-select team that played test matches against a visiting Pakistan national side, the most important point in my hockey career,” he recalls.
Interestingly, hockey was not Openda’s first sporting love. During his youthful days, he was also an accomplished basketball player — a tough and uncompromising guard/forward.
He won several national league titles with Posta and was a member of the national team that participated in the African championship in 1990.
“For me, basketball was a more interesting sport and for obvious reasons. I was not surprised when I soon abandoned hockey for hoops,” he says.
Openda played for a successful self-supporting Jua Kali side before joining cross-town rivals Kisumu Lakers.
I played with Openda at Lakers and I remember him coming to the courts at Kenyatta Sports ground after finishing his hockey training, not far away.
Openda moved to Nairobi in 1984 after joining Posta in a move that would culminate in a successful career.
“I was employed by Posta due to my basketball skills and this meant that I had to move to Nairobi, where the team was based,” says Openda.
At Posta, he teamed up with his former Jua Kali teammates Ronnie Owino and Philip Ochanda, forming a formidable side dubbed ‘The Athletic Mailmen’.
He won his first national league title in 1989 and was a part of the national team side that took part in the Africa Masculine Championships (now AfroBasket) in Luanda, Angola, a year later.
In the same year, he was in the final Posta team that played against Egyptian giants Al Ahly in an Africa Club Championships encounter at Moi Stadium, Kasarani.
Owino, himself an accomplished coach with both the national men and women’s teams, recalls his days as Openda’s teammate saying: “Jos was by far our best defensive player at Posta. He had quick feet and long hands which allowed him to get steals and guard against our opponents’ top scorers.”
“He had determination, a never say die attitude, self-belief and self-confidence. He could also run the floor with a positive attitude and never missed training.”
Soon after, Openda decided he had had enough of basketball and it was time to return to hockey, to the surprise of many.
“I returned to hockey and took over coaching roles at Posta women’s team and since there was no league, we were involved in many friendly matches. I remember losing a match 16 at one time,” he says.
After a few years, Openda was recalled to basketball in what became an on-and-off affair before deciding to go under following his marriage to Catherine Openda.
“But before I could even take my long deserved rest, Betty Masinde and my basketball team manager, Dave Mayienga came knocking on my door. I went back (to hockey),” he says.
His immediate task was to build a team around the late Betty Tioni, Josephine Ataro, Rose Mulo and Jacky Atieno.
The club became a hit and qualified for the African championship in Egypt where they won all their games before losing to Nigeria in the final.
“It was the most painful defeat I have ever experienced in hockey. But upon return, I started recruiting young players. However, we went to the next continental club tournament where the same thing happened,” Openda reflects.
However, he never lost hope and before long, Telkom dominated the championships, lifting five titles in a row at one point.
In 2014 the team’s struggles begun and saw them miss a trip to Zambia. However, they regrouped the following year and traveled to Zimbabwe in what was an emotional trip.
“The Zimbabwe trip was a very emotional one for the team. We went out to play for Tioni, who had just passed on. We wanted to win it for her and, fortunately, we did,” he says.
After that tournament, sponsors Telkom pulled out and the team’s financial woes started and they even rebranded to Blazers in a move aimed at attracting new financiers.
“It was extremely difficult to operate after the sponsorship was withdrawn. We struggled and even pulled out of the Africa Championships, despite confirming our participation,” Openda says.
“I love this team so much and for that reason, I decided to hang in there, despite the financial situation. Without me and with no sponsorships, I knew the players would leave and even worse, the team would get relegated.”
Alongside team manager Jane Nyamogo, Openda is still with the team.
“Jane and I are still on board. I just pray that things will come back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t see much happening this year, maybe 2021,” he notes.
Openda has also served as a national team coach as well as a Nairobi hockey president.
He guided Kenya to a bronze medal at the All Africa Games in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1999 and the World League in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2015.
Openda, who turns 58 this year, was born to the late Albert and Alice Ayuka, in what was a family of sports enthusiasts. The dad was the chairman and patron of Kisumu Hotstars football team.
“My dad was involved in football in Kisumu for many years while my mum was our greatest support ever, always coming to cheer us from the sidelines whenever we were in action,” says Openda.
His three brothers — all deceased — were also into sports. George Ayuka was a goalkeeper at Gor Mahia and national team Harambee Stars, Eric Ayuka was a winger at Posta while Kenye Ayuka played for Re-Union.
His sister, Rose Ayuka — was also a standout hockey player at Kisumu Girls leading the school to the national championships while Okash Ayuka was an electric sprinter who threatened to break national records.