• The next decade saw the school getting relegated to the less prestigious Damu Pevu Shield and occasionally back to the Prescott Cup — Okumu
• Upper Hill has a strong representation at Nondies with Ian Kabata, Collins Oduor, Allen Katoni, Saidi Abdalla, Phares Mbadi and Maurice Otieno among their products.
Rising to the top of the tree in the schools’ sporting landscape in Kenya is no mean feat. No school knows that as much as current giants Upper Hill High School.
The city-based secondary school, which is over 70 years old, has an enviable track record in rugby, football, basketball and hockey.
Maurice Okumu, who was a teacher at the school for over 27 years, admitted that it has not been all rosy. Okumu, who coached the school’s rugby team during that period, highlights the tough journey the school had to overcome to become champions.
“I remember being posted to Upper Hill in 1993. The same year we were promoted to the Prescott Cup and it was a horrible season. We lost 96-0 to St Mary’s, 77-0 to Lenana and a similar margin to Nairobi School, who were the top teams back then. When we came for the home games, it was a similar scenario and, naturally, we felt deflated,” noted Okumu.
“The next decade saw the school getting relegated to the less prestigious Damu Pevu Shield and occasionally back to the Prescott Cup."
“We were up and down for the first 10 years. Occasionally, we had a win or two. I remember winning the Impala Floodlit Schools’ title in 1997 but success stories were few and far between,” added Okumu.
The soft-spoken Okumu then crafted a different strategy to not only raise the morale of the Upper Hill team but also that of lesser rugby playing schools like Ofafa Jericho, Jamhuri High, Moi Forces Academy, Muhuri Muchiri among others. He revamped the Nairobi Schools’ Provincial League in the latter part of the ’90s and the Damu Pevu league.
“The Big Prescott Cup teams thought it was their right to go to the nationals by winning the event but alongside some other teachers, we thought otherwise and started the provincial league. We eventually found our footing and became competitive and started getting good results.”
Okumu was also looking inwardly on how to improve Upper Hill’s competitiveness and decided on starting an inter-house competition and identifying talent from an early age — in Form 1.
“The only way was to compete in inter-house competitions and expose the juniors to the sport when they joined the school hence put structures in place,” he explained.
The rewards of all his efforts were to be borne soon and by 2006, Upper Hill had started making inroads into schools’ rugby and qualified for the national Sevens championships, where they won the plate category.
In 2009 ‘Upper’ won the Blackrock Schools’ trophy and were regular participants in the national Sevens and 15s championships in 2011 and 2012.
The team finished third at the East Africa schools Sevens championships in 2013 in Uganda, a tangible indication of progress. Since then, Upper Hill has grown from strength to strength in the sport and have won the Prescott Cup four years in a row (2016-2019) as well as the East Africa schools 15s title in 2018 in Rwanda, where they were unbeaten.
Amazingly, they achieved the feat without conceding a try this becoming the first school in the history of the competition to do so. Okumu thanks the school administration for their support.
“I must thank the school administration for their support because, without them, we would be nowhere. They have provided us with uniform, boots, rugby balls and now everyone talks about Upper Hill as a force in the game unlike many years ago when we were the whipping boys.”
He also salutes the various school principals starting with Peter Orero, Benjamin Njaga and current principal Masaku Muya for their tireless contribution in nurturing sports talent vis-a-vis academic excellence in the school.
Okumu noted that when Unicef made Upper Hill a talent centre in 2013, the team went on an upward trajectory.
“All our team benefited immensely from the program because the school would receive grants and with the structure already in place, we kept on getting better and better,” he enthused.
Okumu also lauded the support of the school’s alumni association for their input and support. Rugby coach Powell Gwena noted the importance of structures in the success of a sporting institution regardless of their level.
“If a Form One comes in and trains well, we can put him in the first team. There are no preferences that it has to be a Form four,” he averred.
Gwena admits a lot of schools put their emphasis on Form 4 students and when they leave, the team struggles.
“We at Upper Hill learnt the hard way in our early years and, therefore, we have the Under-16’s who are primarily Form One and Form Two students, who play in tournaments and by the time they get to senior classes, they are well rounded in the sport and can perform,” he noted. Gwena, an old boy of the school, also thanked the administration for support.
“When the rugby season is about to start, we come in a week early so as to work on our fitness and conditioning. Meals are provided for the players; we bond together and we train extensively before the season starts,” he explained.
Among the star players, the school has produced who have gone on to don the national team jersey for Shujaa, Simbas and Chipu include Kenya sevens playmaker Johnstone Olindi (KCB), Benjamin Marshall.
(Nondies), Shem Agungo (Impala), Brian Amaitsa, James Mwangi, Brian Kimani, Ibrahim Ayodi, Max Omondi and Samuel Otieno who have all played for the Kenya Under- 20 team last year during the Africa Under-20 Championships.
Upper Hill has a strong representation at Nondies with Ian Kabata, Collins Oduor, Allen Katoni, Saidi Abdalla, Phares Mbadi and Maurice Otieno among their products.
At Menengai Oilers, the school has Abdulwalib Wasonga, Steve Ochieng and Calvin Kahindi with Max Majuek and Bob Otieno at Impala.
Traditionally, the school was a powerhouse in the ’80s alongside Jamhuri but standards nose-dived in the ’90s and the first part of the new millennium.
However, in the last decade, the school has witnessed a revival of fortunes in the beautiful game culminating in them winning the national title in 2017 in Nyeri and finishing runners up in 2013 when the current Harambee Stars’ striker Michael Olunga was donning the green jersey for the team.
Coach Gilbert Walusimbi said the team has elaborate structures with Under-16 and Under-19. “We have very solid structures and I can bet with you that we are going to dominate for the next five years with the structures that we have put in place” added Walusimbi
Walusimbi noted that working with Kenya Premier League managers has borne fruit for the school side. “We have brought in people like Dion Sam from Kariobangi Sharks and this has given us a strong and much superior technical bench to our rivals.”
As per tradition, Walusimbi says the school is preparing to play Ugandan school side to test their readiness ahead of the season. “We have an invitational match with St Mary’s Kitende to sharpen up our boys before the season starts,” added Walusimbi.
Walusimbi thanked the school administration for their support. “I must credit the school for their hard work and support during the season. Without them, we would not have gone far,” he noted.
The team also has a partnership deal with Liberty Professional Academy headed by former Harambee Stars’ coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulei.
“It’s a good programme that exposes our boys to high standards of training and there is always a major improvement whenever they come back.”
Football luminaries from the school include Ovella Ochieng, Bonaventure Maruti and Gilbert Selebwa amongst others.
For a school team to have two teams in the Kenya Basketball Federation league and another participating in the second tier, National Basketball Association league is no mean feat.
The structures in the school enable the team to have the Form ones and twos play for the Junior team with Form two, three and four making up the senior outfit.
The team bagged the national crown in Mangu in 2013 and a year later, emerged victorious at the East Africa Games in Burundi. Head coach Ronald Omange said playing in the national league and second-tier has greatly improved their game and made them competitive.
“I remember a couple of years ago, we were on the verge of joining the top tier but due to certain logistics and the fact that the team was made up of students, we opted to miss it out,” said Omange.
Omange attributed their rise to the support from the school administration, alumni and Giants of Africa.
“We have received good support from various companies and the school itself and that has enabled us to be up there with some of the top schools.”
The basketball prowess has seen some of their students join universities like and Nazarene University including Ajang Rur, Michael Riek and Deng Garang. Those that have joined Strathmore are Martin Mugambi, Joseph Ongoro and Ron Dolo. Other players have gone to join top universities in the United States.
Upper Hill’s rise in hockey is truly remarkable. Coach Jane Ruoroh joined the school in 2005 and to her shock, the school had no hockey team
She added: “We had to build a structure from scratch to encourage the Form ones and two because the sport was competing against sports like football, rugby and basketball,” she added.
Indeed, their first game in 2009 saw them lose 5-0 to Pumwani followed later defeats at the hand of powerhouses Lenana (7-0) and Nairobi School (8-0) respectively.
Ruoroh never gave up and steadily built the team gradually and was able to get assistance from Kenya Police and former national team player Felix ‘Madillu’ Okatch. In 2015, the team made it to the provincial semifinals and a year later qualified for the nationals after beating Hillcrest in the Metropolitan Championship final.
From 2016, the school has been present at the national championships losing in the final to Friends School Kamusinga in 2017 and going down to St Anthony’s in the final in 2018.