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IF ever there was an example of what Canberra as a community can do to improve the lives of others, it is the story of Sudanese refugee Bul Kuol.
Now 19, he arrived in Canberra as a refugee and has emerged as another success story of the ACT Academy of Sport program.
The role of the ACTAS is to nurture and provide support to athletes with potential, who fall short of securing national-based scholarships.
He may have been lost to sport had it not been for the academy. Kuol, who didn’t start playing basketball in Canberra until his teens, came on to the radar of talent scouts three years ago at a tournament in Sydney.
Brad Davidson, part of the coaching team at the Centre of Excellence at the AIS, saw Kuol play on that day and was surprised to find a talent as rich and raw as Kuol’s was from within his own home city of Canberra.
He knew Kuol had potential, but at that stage, the teenager wasn’t of the standard required for the AIS. But steps at a time, the ACT Academy of Sport, through the likes of Brendan Parnell, went over and above to ensure Kuol’s talent was maximised.
There were times when many thought, because of cultural differences, that he wasn’t coachable, but those who saw his talent persisted.
The ACTAS became the guiding force for a young man who had seen plenty as a refugee. It didn’t just provide coaching and sports science, it provided him with guidance in the life skills needed to succeed.
This year, Bul Kuol ended up starting for the Canberra Gunners in the SEABL competition in his first year at this level. He soon attracted interest from US colleges with the prospect of a scholarship, a far cry from his early days as a refugee in Canberra.
There is still plenty of work to be done. Under normal circumstances it is a road much travelled by the academy as it has provided a pathway for many athletes to the American college system over the years. But this situation was ground breaking.
There were study requirements, visas and passports to get him over the line to satisfy the strict American colleges, always on the lookout for new talent.
Lake Ginninderra College’s Steve Walding guided Bul through the academics while Pierre Johannessen, from an organisation known as the Big Bang Ballers, assisted with the immigration process. As they say: it takes a village…
With the assistance of the ACTAS, Bul Kuol secured a scholarship with the California Baptist University. He has been there for two weeks and, while it’s still early days, it’s a new chapter in his life that wouldn’t have been possible without the likes of Davidson, Walding, Johannessen, Parnell and the ACT Academy of Sport.
IT is examples of successes like Kuol’s that make it imperative that the academy maintains its identity when it relocates its administration and gym to the AIS campus later this year.
This is seen as a huge development for the ACTAS, which provides services to around 100 athletes including Paralympic gold medalist Katie Kelly, given the facilities and the support on offer at the AIS.
ACTAS is a valuable function of the ACT government and there have been assurances that its independence will be maintained despite being located in the heart of the AIS.