Snow and ice covered the tennis courts at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School during the month of December 2014. Halfway across the world, two Saints athletes hit the tennis court to play in the sunshine at the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Youth Games.
Ronzai Saurombe and Tare Mariga brought home gold and silver medals for their home country, Zimbabwe.
Saurombe had not been able to travel home for more than two years, and, he said, “had it not been for the invite to be part of my national team, I would not have been able to go back.”
Youth Games, which ran through the first two weeks of December, is similar to Junior Olympics competitions in the United States. Athletes from Zimbabwe took part in tennis, judo, swimming, soccer, boxing, basketball and more, and compiled a team score in competition with 10 other Southern African countries.
Both players met with significant success, earning a gold medal in men’s doubles and, in Saurombe’s case, a gold medal in mixed doubles and a bronze medal in men’s singles. They also picked up a silver medal for a team event.
Overall, Zimbabwe placed second in the Youth Games with a total of 93 medals, after first-place South Africa’s 121 medals. Angola, slated to host the 2016 Youth Games, came in third with 20 medals.
Both Mariga and Saurombe came to SCCC/ATS after years of playing at Mantas Tennis Academy in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Tennis was once a world-class sport in Zimbabwe, the former British colony of Rhodesia, Saurombe said, but in recent years,“it got to the point where we were not producing so many players.”
That lull in the sport’s trajectory prompted Saurombe to look to the U.S.
“I applied to a lot of schools,” he said. “Seward was the one where I was accepted, and even though I didn’t know where Kansas was, I chose to come.” Both athletes hope to transfer to four-year college in the U.S. to complete bachelor’s degrees. Saurombe has enrolled at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.
Tennis may be on the rise once again in Zimbabwe. Even as the sport he loves slowly regains momentum at home, Saurombe said, “tennis is better here in the U.S.”
That suits SCCC/ATS tennis coach Darin Workman just fine.
“They’re great kids, and really good tennis players,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to have them here.”