The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
MUCH of the discussion on local women’s basketball has been centred on the likes of Cavaliers, Varsity Leopards, Cameo, Arcadia Bucs or reigning champions Harare City Hornets.
But there was a team that reigned supreme in the 1990s, before somehow coming to an “undeserved ending”.
Trackers were a women’s basketball giant that dominated the domestic scene between 1989 and 1994, winning, among others, the 1989 Barclays Knock-out Cup, the 1991 Handicap Cup, Mashonaland Basketball title in ’92 and ’93, the Kodak Super League Tournament and a couple of National League titles.
During that reign, the Arcadia-based club was home to big names like founder Eleanor Adams, Patricia Nichol, Treena Borges, Renee Weir, Barbie Borges, Hilda Chieza, Nyarai Gwati.
It was mentored by the likes of Phawiza Jarvis, Spencer Nyamadzawo and Kevin Cameron, among others.
The club, however, went bust in 1999.
“Trackers crumbled sometime in 1999; after winning their last championship, with me as coach,” said former gaffer Nyamadzawo.
“Looking back, the biggest reason for the club’s downfall was that we did not invest in youth and duly paid for it when a large chunk of our seasoned players left for greener pastures.
“Some went to neighbouring countries, some abroad and prior to that we had not done enough to cultivate a youth policy.
“Yet Trackers had some of the best players in the country and not many were eager to come join us, least of all the younger players,” he said.
Now, 21 years later, all that is left of Trackers are memories of this all-conquering dynasty.
These memories are treasured by the likes of co-founder and former coach Phawiza Jarvis, Farida Canary and Nyamadzawo.
For Jarvis, as co-founder and former player, her memories run deep.
She still has most of the Trackers’ medals, trophies and memorabilia.
“Trackers, originally named Mermaids, was the brainchild of Eleanore Adams and myself, was formed back in 1984,” she said.
“I remember, in order to raise the affiliation fees to join the league, we, as a club, came up with the idea of having a sponsored walk.
“Trackers was a family and we did not have any financial backing and would raise funds for kits and stuff through cake sales, ladies’ nights and sponsored walks.
“I played for the team from its inception right up to 1999, when I migrated to the UK, and (I) have so many memories of both that team and everyone that made up the Trackers family.
“Whether it was catching a train, as Mermaids, to Bulawayo for our first big tournament, winning our first Kodak Super League Tournament at the Show Grounds in 1992, or the many troubles we had to find a home ground.
“At one time we were offered Cranborne Barracks basketball courts, and that was one of our first big breaks, and then came the fight to get recognition,” she said.
For Farida Canary, the first thing that comes to mind when the 56-year-old thinks about Trackers are the words “Trackers Nyama You.”
“For the majority of Trackers’ time at the top, this was the team’s war cry and translated to Trackers just beat you, which the girls came up with on their own and would sing after every game and win,” said Canary.
Her time with Trackers was mostly spent on the bench as coach, having spent most of her playing days with Arcadia Bucs, under the tutelage of seasoned gaffers likes the late Kimon Raftopolus, Norman Roberts, Patrick Gallaway (Mapepa) and the late Eric Mountford.
A 1978 All-star, Barclays Super Cup winner and Most Valuable Player (MVP) and former Bucs captain, Canary joined Trackers during the 1989/90 season as a player before transitioning to coaching the following season.
It was not the sweetest of transitions.
“Trackers was mostly made up of young girls who, although talented, were not the finished product.
‘From my point of view, their previous coaches were not able to play the girls to their strengths, and that is what I brought to the table.
“My biggest challenge was getting the team to trust me and train hard, which I accomplished by joining them in the drills and showing them the way.
“With time, I did manage to gain their trust,” she said.
This set-up produced a run of impressive wins and seasons, during which they won almost everything on offer and formed many rivalries with the likes of Arcadia Bucs and Varsity Leopards.
Nyamadzawo, another former coach, speaks vividly of the said rivalries.
“I joined Trackers during the 1992/93 season; Cameron had just been appointed head coach and I was his assistant.
“I remember we won the treble during that season, winning the league title, the National League and the Barclays Cup.
“Cameron stepped down the following season and I took over as head coach, winning the 1994/95 title again, the TPA Cup, beating Varsity in the final, and the 1996/97 league title and National Championship,” he said.
Two main things characterise Nyamadzawo’s romance with Trackers — the rivalries during the time and the unity on display at the club.
“The job did come with its challenges, mainly being my age, as I was this young boy, fresh off his playing days and I was in charge of talented and seasoned players.
“Fortunately, they accepted me early on. I can trace all that to the family set-up at the club.
“Trackers had a huge following, mostly from the Arcadia area, with the residents taking an active role in the team and supporting us with everything we needed.
“They came to games in their numbers. Some parents, in-laws and relatives chipping in with transport on game days and training for those that might not have had,” he said.
On the rivalries, Nyamadzawo said: “In Harare we had Celtics, Arcadia Bucs and Varsity, while we had Giants in Bulawayo, but it was the derby with Arcadia that was truly memorable.
“Most of these players, from both sides, stayed in Braeside, Arcadia and Sunningdale and either knew each other, grew up together or lived in the same neighbourhood, so no one really wanted to lose to the other. Preparing for these matches was an experience itself as there was lots of banter in the run-ups to these games. Varsity, at the time, was an emerging team under the Masenda brothers (Darlington and Admire), and those games were always exciting,” he said.