I was about to have breakfast at the popular Iye Ogbelaka Restaurant in Benin City penultimate Tuesday when my phone rang. I was expecting the caller, Ibim Semenitari, a senior colleague and friend of over two decades, to talk about our normal subjects of mutual interest; media and politics.
However, she began conversing about a subject I never thought she had clear ideas about, much less deeper insight into – the importance of marriage of education and sports.
The discussion went on for about 20 minutes and twice, I had to check my phone to be sure I wasn’t talking to a renowned sports aficionado.
Semenitari, now executive director of Archdeacon Brown Education Center (ABEC) said she called to invite me to the launching of the ABEC School Soccer Programme, officially slated for Thursday, July 18, 2019, because I have been an advocate of a marriage between sports and football for many years.
Still doubting, like Thomas, I asked her if she has a clear idea of what she intends to do and what this huge task entails.
Semenitari’s response left me dumbfounded. She revealed that the soccer school programme is designed to provide children desirous of a career in football with quality education, alongside an elite player development football programme.
The curriculum, she said, is designed to adequately prepare a good number of students who are talented in football for successful careers in Europe and secure sports scholarships into colleges in the United States.
She went on to reveal that she has done an in-depth study of the subject and has also engaged the Panthers Academy as technical partners and that the unveiling will hold on Thursday, July 18, 2019, while the main programme will commence September 2019, with all ABEC Schools hosting an aspect of the project in different capacities.
Determined to know how knowledgeable she is about the operation of such sports programme vis-à-vis students’ academic work, I questioned further.
She revealed that the program will run with three age-specific options, namely, recreational football for students under the age of 10, “they would further be grouped into two training groups: Under 8 and Under 10. Their training exercises will be conducted at the primary school playgrounds of the ABEC Schools’ Group. Then there is Collegiate football for athletes under the age of 13. Their training exercises will be conducted at the ABEC Boarding School field, Woji. They will be exposed to five hours of on-the-field training, and three hours of competitive play each week.”
The last category, according to Semenitari, is the Pro Elite Football for athletes under the age of 16.
“Their training exercises will be conducted at the Christie Toby Campus. They will be exposed to 16.5 hours of on-the-field training, and three hours of competitive play each week.”
All could do was shake my head in amazement.
Adokiye, Alli, Oyedeji to Mentor Students
Semenitari is not stopping there, she has assembled an A grade line-up of sports legends, who also excel in education, to mentor students and unveil the programme, so that parents will realize that sport is a career like any other.
Leading the trio is Adokiye Amiesimaka, a former footballer who also bagged a degree in law at the University of Lagos.
Adokiye started his education and football career at CMS Grammar School, Lagos. As captain of the school’s team, they won the Lagos State’s Principals’ Cup after beating St. Finbarr’s College.
He read law at the University of Lagos and also played for the Enugu Rangers Football Club, Sharks Football Club, and African Continental Bank Football Club, in the golden age of the Nigerian football league.
Adokiye was a member of the Nigerian side that won the African Cup of Nations in 1980.
Adokiye is also a former Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Rivers State, having served previously as Director of Public Prosecution in the state.
Yussuf Alli, a former captain of Team Nigeria to the Olympic Games and General Manager Access Bank Lagos City marathon will also be in Port Harcourt on Thursday to unveil the programme.
Alli started representing Nigeria at the Olympic Games as a student of St. Gregory College, Obalende.
Alli’s jumping skills earned him a scholarship to study at the University of Missouri, where he still holds the school records for the long jump – both indoor and outdoor.
Winner of the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, Alli holds the national record of 8.39m, it used to the African record.
Former NBA star and one of the few basketball stars to play the game on all continents, Olumide Oyedeji, will also be in Port Harcourt.
Oyedeji had his secondary education in Loyola College, Ibadan and like Alli, he got a scholarship to America. He was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics, in the 2nd round of the 2000 NBA Draft.
Oyedeji is a philanthropist and is committed to empowering youths using the tool of basketball as the medium for change. He is founder and CEO of Olumide Oyedeji Youth Foundation (OOYF). OOYF has produced over 300 scholarships to youths since its inception in 2000. Over 40,000 youths from all over the world have participated in the programs since the foundation was established. It has operated in more than 30 cities in Nigeria, and over 20 different cities worldwide, including in South Africa, Nigeria, China, Spain, Mali, Germany, South Korea, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.
Wake Up Call For Administrators
With her well-planned programme and the crew she is working with, Semenitari will definitely make a success of her sports administration career as she did journalism and politics and will produce stars that will become global icons in the nearest future.
What dampened my spirit is: How come Semenitari, a neophyte in sports a few years ago, has acquired so much knowledge about the marriage of sports and education and has taken a bold step and she is setting up a school that will allow the marriage work?
How come most of our professors that schooled in USA and Europe where the marriage between sports and education is seamless are not practicing what they learn abroad at home, rather they abhor their students taking part in sports?
Why is it that our sports administrators, who daily mouth the success stories of greats like Carl Lewis, Merlene Ottey, Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson and other heroes who became global icons, by combining education with sports, can’t replicate same here?
We have seen hundreds of Nigerians like Alli, Oyedeji, Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya, Blessing Okagbare, Olapade Adeniken, and others too numerous to mention successfully combining education and sports in the USA and make a triumph of it. Why are we not replicating it here or we are probably waiting for the day Semenitari will become the Minister of Education or Minister of Sports? While we wait for the day, I say a big congratulations to Semenitari, her team and hundreds of talented kids who will get a great opportunity to use their talents.