After displaying top class tactics that took the country’s women’s national volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, to the Tokyo Olympics last year, Paul Bitok is on another mission.
The volleyball coach is seeking to revive a talent academy and school (Paul Bitok Academy), which he founded in 2013, but shut down in 2018.
Hope was alive for more than 100 sports talents who had enrolled at the academy in Simat, Uasin Gishu County, but the institution unexpectedly shut down after struggling financially.
The academy was primed to be a model school where sports and education would run side by side.
Bitok, who is also the founder of Paul Bitok Sports Foundation, established the primary School and talent academy with an ultimate objective of identifying and nurturing sports talents, while balancing sport and education.
He recalls how the academy wobbled under the weight of financial problems in its sixth year, before collapsing, crushing talents’ dreams of successful sports careers.
Bitok, who previously coached Rwanda’s national women volleyball team, says the academy had 354 students, and at least 100 of them were sports talents who were being prepared in various fields such as volleyball, athletics and basketball.
He says he hoped to revive the talent academy in 2020, but his plans were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic that led to closure of schools and training facilities across the country.
After the academy shut down, part of its facilities were converted to a hotel, which Bitok says, have now been readjusted to accommodate the youngsters.
During the period, when Bitok was plotting a revival of his dream academy, Kapsait Athletics Secondary School, run by seasoned athletics coach Eric Kimaiyo, who trains marathon world record Brigid Kosgei, was closing down – also due to financial troubles.
“We had reached Standard Five (in 2018) and we had more than 100 boys and girls, who we had identified for various sports fields. But because of endless challenges, we stopped working with them for more than two years,” Bitok says.
He adds that he has already signed a partnership with Soar Africa, to revive the closed academy.
As part of his race to identify talents, Bitok stood on the sides of the national cross country championships course at Eldoret’s Lobo Village on January 22 as he keenly followed the junior races – identifying potential athletics talents for possible admission into the academy for holiday training.
According to Bitok, young sports talents will be identified ahead of school reopening in May this year.
He says sports training will start in April, noting that a facelift on boarding facilities for junior talents and coaches is complete.
“We hope to work with the youth when they close school. We are now registering them. We want to help vulnerable communities,” said Bitok.