Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Blue House Is The Best

IT IS the season of the annual inter-house sports festivals in our secondary schools. During the past few weeks, I have received loads of invitation letters requesting me to be chairman, special guest of honour or house patron at one inter-house sports festival or the other, both private and public schools. Due to constraints of time, I have had to turn down several of them, but that has not stopped the IVs coming.

Two of those that I have accepted are from my children’s schools. Nothing partial there. I have always made it a point of duty to attend my children’s inter-house sports and other programmes whenever I can and I believe every father should do the same. We shouldn’t leave them for the mothers alone.

I love inter-house sports meets because, apart from the sports on the menu which is my job and passion, they help to build healthy living, physical fitness, mental alertness, competitive spirit and team work in school children. Sports meets also promote family values of unity, support and encouragement.

Children are always very proud when their parents come to watch them perform and this brings out the best in them. If you’re reading this and you didn’t plan to attend your child or ward’s inter-house sport meet, please have a change of heart. Call your child or ward now, ask when the event will hold and make sure you create the time to attend.

The majority of the super stars that dominate the international sports circuit today were introduced to their sport or given the initial encouragement by their parents or some other close relative. It was when their talent started shining through and the parents/relative couldn’t cope with their training and development any longer that professional coaches were brought in. But the first building blocks were set by the parents/relatives who were never absent at events such as sports meets and practice sessions.

Consider the following imaginary conversation...
American son: Dad, it’s our sports day in school on Thursday. You know you have to be there, dad. I’m running the 100 yards.

American dad: Of course son, you know I will be there. I’m coming to watch you win!

The foregoing, though imaginary, is a standard conversation that you will encounter in an average American, German or British family. For them, it is a cultural thing. The parent simply must be present at the child’s sports day. And the child will put up his or her best performance knowing that the parent will be watching. Many Olympic gold medalists and world champions have been discovered in this way.

A few famous examples will suffice here. Usain Bolt (athletics), Tiger Woods (golf), Andre Agassi (tennis), Floyd Mayweather Jnr (boxing), Lewis Hamilton (motor racing) Lionel Messi (football) the Williams Sisters, Venus and Serena (tennis), Rafael Nadal (tennis), Michael Phelps (swimming) and a host of other successful sports stars were first introduced at young and tender ages by their parents and/or guardians.

Just last week, the Russian tennis beauty Maria Sharapova on the eve of the opening ceremony of the on-going Winter Olympic Games (Sochi 2014) told the media about how, growing up in Sochi, she had to wake up at 5 O’ Clock in the morning so she could make the two-hour journey to the nearest tennis court on schedule in order to practice.

Maria’s first tennis racquet was given to her by her father’s friend when she was four years old and she started practising with her father, Yuri . At age six, she attended a tennis clinic in Moscow conducted by the great Martina Navratilova. At age seven, her father borrowed money to take her to America to continue her development at a tennis academy that produced the likes of  Andre Agassi. Ten years later, Maria Sharapova won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old!

Heaven helps those who help themselves, says the old adage. The stories of rich and famous sports stars always fascinates us, but none of them became world champions or Olympic gold medalists simply by sitting around, engaging in endless prayers or just hoping that “God will do it.” They all worked really hard and made huge sacrifices from young ages before God blessed their efforts. That is the only path to enduring success in both sport and life in general. And that is the philosophy we should teach and support our children to imbibe in this season of inter-house sports across Nigerian schools.

Consider this second imaginary conversation:
Nigerian son: ‘So, daddy, when are you coming for my school’s inter-house sports? You know you have to be there. My Blue House is the best.

Nigerian dad: “No problem, son. I will be there. Expect me at 10 O’ Clock.”

That is the spirit!

*PS: I shall accept for publication short articles from parents sharing their first-hand experience at their children’s schools inter-house sports. Please include your name, location and your ward’s name. Thank you.

Unforgettable Memories

lI HAVE many unforgettable memories of participating and attending inter-house sports as a student of Iganmode Grammar School, Ota, Ogun State between 1975 and 1980 when I graduated from the school. But I will recall only two here.

The first was in 1978 when I was in Form Three. I didn’t do athletics. I only played football, table tennis and badminton. But on this day in 1978, my house (Red House, also known as Fadina House) was looking for someone to represent us in the 1500metres heat for junior boys. I happened to be walking past, so the seniors grabbed me and pushed me into the race. Somehow, I finished third and became an instant hero.

Unfortunately for me, the umpires did a poor job. We had only run 1,100metres when they ended the race and picked the winner. We needed to do one more lap to complete 1,500metres, so the race was cancelled altogether. The following morning, we were called back for a re-run.

I was yet to recover from the previous day’s run. My legs were heavy and, after only 400metres, my eyes started seeing things in double form. I was crossing the race track into the football pitch and back onto the race track without realizing it. My house-mates were chanting “Fadina! Fadina!!” but they sounded so far away. Somehow, I managed to finish the race, but this time I came in sixth place and out of the medal zone. I was so disappointed.

My second memorable moment was an invitational relay race at another school’s sports day (Anglican Grammar School, Ota, I think). We (Iganmode Grammar School) were the favourites to win the final but our third leg dropped the baton. No problem.

Our anchor leg, a certain Ganiyu Yusuf (we called him “Galo”) happened to be the fastest school boy in the whole of Ogun State at the time. Galo ran back to pick up the baton while the other schools raced home. Yet, somehow, he caught up and overtook all of them before the finish line. Just picture that  scenario in your mind. It was a very dramatic race indeed.

However, our joy was spoilt when Galo was disqualified because he had apparently picked up the dropped baton outside the baton exchange zone. We received no medal but Galo’s heroic comeback (similar to the CHAN Eagles’ recent comeback from 3-0 down against Morocco) remains evergreen in my memory.

Galo went on to represent Ogun State at the 1979 National Sports Festival in Ibadan, Oluyole ‘79. He won a bronze medal in the 100metres intermediate boys and became a folk hero in Ota.

Unfortunately, Galo was never scouted by Nigeria and his talent was allowed to waste. Happily, I am still in regular touch with this great “Olympian” that Nigeria never had.

Bolaji Abdullahi’s New Dawn

EVEN as we encourage parents to support their children in sports, government patronage of the venture can only speed up the process to discover young talents for the country.

Minister of sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, has done a lot to encourage sports at the grassroots, including launching an innovative National Youth Games which held its inaugural edition last December in Abuja. He also spearheaded the hosting of the last National Schools Sports Festival (NSSF) in Ilorin last November. But he can still do more.

For example, scholarship grants are a winner any day. If parents are told that children who excel in sports will have their school fees paid by their local, state or federal government, that would be an incentive for many to encourage their children. Nigeria will be the long-term beneficiary.

Talking about the NSSF, it was a surprise to many watchers that Cross River State emerged tops in the medals table for the third games, rather than the traditional power houses, Lagos and Delta. But I wasn’t surprised.

Complete Sports editor, Dare Esan had warned me to be on the look-out for Cross River in sports. He had witnessed some of their schools coaching and talent-discovery programmes and predicted that when the seeds germinated, Cross River would start rubbing shoulders with the major states in Nigerian sports.

It just goes to confirm that the secret of success in sports is early scouting, early discovery and early training of our children. And since the parents are the first caretakers of the child when he or she comes into the world, they must lead the way in helping the child discover his or her sport talent early while the government should not be far behind.

*PS: The 2014 Nigerian Universities Games kick off at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife this week. I wish our undergraduates a happy sports festival but, no, it’s too late for them to be “discovered” as our stars of the future. They should simply  enjoy themselves. Our real stars of the future are to be found in the primary and secondary schools inter-house sports.

Red Letter Day at Anfield

I WAS out shopping when Liverpool and Arsenal kicked off their English Premier League (EPL) clash last Saturday  at Anfield. The Gunners had been enjoying the upper hand in recent clashes between the two, so many of us on a Liverpool fans forum to which I belong were rightly apprehensive before the match.

I checked the Livescore application on my smart phone after 10 minutes of action and saw that we were 2-0 up already. I couldn’t believe it, but I contained my joy and prayed silently that the Gunners wouldn’t be able to bounce back.

I entered another store to continue with my shopping. Few minutes later, I overheard one of the shop attendants telling his colleagues that Liverpool were murdering Arsenal. “It’s now 4-0,” he said.

I couldn’t believe my ears, so I rushed out of the shop to open Livescore again on my phone. After 19 minutes, indeed it was 4-0! Egbami o! I muttered involuntarily. My hands were shaking, my legs were shaking and my voice was shaking. In fact, the whole of my body was shaking with excitement. If I hadn’t taken a good grip of myself, some young men around who were sampling free perfume from a promotional kiosk would have thought their perfume intoxicated me.

Liverpool went on to win the match 5-1. The Gunners were completely out-gunned.
Last week, I commented that this year’s  EPL promises to witness a very dramatic ending in the race for the title, for the fourth Champions League place, and in the battle against relegation.

That comment could well turn out to be the biggest under-statement of the year.

Who Wants Keshi Sacked?

l HAD rounded off this column when news broke that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) were back again in the hunt for a technical adviser to “assist” (a.k.a. “replace!”) Stephen Keshi as coach of the Super Eagles at the World Cup. Soccertalk was the first to expose the plot last year which led the “sports authorities” to beat a hasty retreat. Let us hope that they would have retreated  again from the ill-advised  idea by the time this column returns next week. See you then, insha Allah.

Dear Mumini, welcome back from your long vacation. I believe and hope that you had a great time. Now that you are back and Brazil 2014 is around the corner, we your readers are waiting for your pin point passes like Sunday Oliseh of yore. Nnoo, Ekabo, Barika de Zuaa. – Uba Stephen Igwe, Badagry.

Welcome back my brother. I am a fan of coach Stephen Keshi. I am writing this to protest about his choice of goalkeeper at the just concluded CHAN competition. I know  that Chigozie Agbim does not rate amongst the first ten goalkeepers in the local league today. Even at Rangers where he plays, he is the second choice. I don’t know what Keshi sees in Agbim when Alampasu was there. A similar thing happened last year during Afcon. Uzoenyi was not given the chance. Keshi should watch it.  – Chief Bartho Olisakwe, Ilorin, Kwara State.

Home Eagles deserve all the accolades showered on them. Meanwhile, Ike Uche deserves another chance from the Big Boss. –Alaba S.A.A, Oyo.

l HAVE just read your (comeback) piece. Let me borrow your last line therefrom: “It’s nice to have you back on the beat, Mumini.” –-Howard Odigie, Lagos.

Alhaji, we missed you. Thank God you are back to do what you know how to do best. Our bronze medal at the CHAN is not too bad. Our boys gave a good account of themselves.  -– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, Abia State.

Alhaji, I wish to correct the inaccuracy in your write up of 5th February, 2014 under item 3. Our home based Eagles defeated Ivory Coast 4-1 in the 1st leg qualifier at Kaduna and were beaten 2-0 in the 2nd leg. They would’ve missed out of the tournament if the Ivorians had scored the 3rd goal in the match. Welcome back from leave. –-Pastor Kunle Joko, Ilesa.

*That is what I implied, although I didn’t give the details as you have done. Thank you.

Good day, sir. Eagles coach Stephen Keshi said fans should help him with information on any good in-form Nigerian players abroad. I’m responding to that call by saying that Michael Olaitan, Ramon Azeez and Lukman Haruna deserve to be called up. –-???

I am impressed that Keshi has invited Ramon Azeez. Another player I want him to give a trial is Haruna Lukman. This guy was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He was actually the youngest member of the team then. He had a down time due to injury. Now that he is back and playing regularly for his club, Keshi should please, give him a trial.  Meanwhile, I noted that we are lining up friendlies with Mexico, Croatia and USA. This is good, but I will suggest that we select opponents for friendlies only from continents where our World Cup opponents come from. -– A,konte, Port Harcourt.

Haba, Mumini. I can assure you that Manchester United are not digging for oil. This is our transitional period. Just that David Moyes and his rookies backroom staff did not help the situation in the transfer period. Liverpool, watch your back!  –-Funso Oshinowo, Ibadan.


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