Central Conference offers a glimpse into the future
They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It is also acknowledged that the foundation set for children goes a long way in determining what their future would look like. Such was the event at the basketball hall of the Abuja National Stadium on May 2 and 3 when youths from nine northern states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) gathered to fight for honours for their schools and in the process achieve personal glory.
The occasion was the Central Conference finals of the 19th Nestle Milo Secondary Schools Basketball Championship, which served as the qualifier for the annual national finals scheduled for later this year in Lagos.
Ten teams from the 19 northern states of the country qualified for the play-off, but one, Gombe, could not make the event due to what some described as the nonchalant attitude of the state government to grassroots sports development. The reason given for Gombe’s absence was lack of funds, but that did not remove anything from the excitement and entertainment the participating schools dished out to basketball lovers at the event dominated by schools from Adamawa and FCT, Abuja.
The students came with different ambitions, including winning laurels for their schools and getting the attention of international scouts at the championship. But all basketball connoisseurs that witnessed the fierce contests, which started on April 27 and ended on May 3, were agreed that in this class of children Nigeria has a bright future in the game.
Earlier before the hostilities began, Nestle Nigeria Plc’s Branch Manager, North Central, Folabi Adeleye had given an insight into the thinking that made his company to embark on the mission of raising future basketball champions for Nigeria.
He said: “We believe that children who are physically active in exercise and sports are less likely to be obese and most likely to do well all round. Milo, as a brand that is known for building future champions, have steered this cause for 19 consecutive years. Milo uses sports as metaphor to teach school children important life skills such as determination, confidence, discipline, teamwork and respect.
“This year, over 9,000 schools from the 36 states and the FCT are jostling for the prestigious trophy of champions. As this is going on, there is also a consumer promotion that is designed to reward customers even as they follow the championship.”
According to Adeleye, aside the championship trophies for the winners in both the male and female categories, the winning schools will also get various amounts of cash rewards for the development of sports facilities.
He reaffirmed that the winners would represent the Central Conference at the national finals slated for Lagos from June 11 to 17.The Nestle official reiterated his company’s willingness to continue sponsoring the grassroots development programme for the foreseeable future, pointing out that a “good number of players in the Premier Basketball League in Nigeria have participated in the Milo Secondary Schools Basketball Championship at one point or the other. Some of our champions are also currently playing in other international premier basketball leagues in the U.S., Spain, Germany, Portugal, China and elsewhere.”
Taking their talents beyond the Milo Secondary Schools Championship is what most of the players are aspiring for. Some have already started looking beyond the shores of Nigeria for fulfillment in the game, which holds a lot of rewards for skillful and diligent players.
Speaking on her expectations at the national finals, which holds in Lagos from June 11 to 17, Government Girls Secondary School, Wuse, Abuja’s Victor Marvelous, who was picked as the Most Valuable Player in the girls’ category of the Central Conference, said qualifying for the national championship would give her the opportunity to rub shoulders with her contemporaries from across the country.
Although her team lost in the final, Marvelous believes the Nestle Milo Basketball Championship has given her the chance to show national team coaches what she can do, adding that she hopes to play the game at the highest level.
“We had a fantastic time in the championship until the final game, which we unfortunately lost, but we have learnt a lot from this competition and so we will go back to work harder for the national finals.
“We must find a way of overcoming some of our mistakes because we had no reason to lose to Government Secondary School, Numan. It is unfortunate the competition ended this way for us, but we must commend Nestle for giving us the opportunity to develop ourselves in the game.”
The Senior Secondary School student, who said she got into the game barely four years ago through the Power Forward Foundation initiative, wants other corporate bodies to emulate Nestle by sponsoring youth development programmes.
An excited Government Secondary School Karu’s coach, Achebe Ndubuisi, whose team won the boys’ title, is optimistic that they will win the national title this year.
He said, “Last year we played in the finals in Asaba and lost because we faced the hosts. It was not easy. We have put behind us the defeat and are now looking forward to the zonal championship in Ilorin. This time our focus is to make it to Lagos for the finals. I believe our chances are very bright.”
To Government Secondary School Wuse, Zone Three’s coach, Jeffery Bottson, who could not fulfill his ambition of leading his girls to the title, winning the national title will make up for the disappointment they got in Abuja.
“Last year we made it to the zonal finals, but this year we lost the qualification to GSS Numan, Adamawa State. We groom the players from the scratch on the rudiments of the game.
“Our player, Victor Marvelous won the MVP last year and this year and she only started basketball 11 months ago. We have now groomed a team that is confident to play anywhere. We miss non-qualification for the zonal championship in Ilorin even though we hear best losers will also qualify. But it is not confirmed yet.”
To Government Secondary School Numan’s coach, Dickson Timism, whose team’s victory in the final has given them an automatic ticket to the national finals, going to the national final will open the doors of glory for his girls.
Speaking on his expectations of the national championship, Timism said, “first we thank Nestlé for the opportunity to the girls and boys to play basketball at the schools level. We hurriedly assembled the team for the Abuja qualifiers and we are happy that at the end of the day the girls picked the sole ticket for girls to play in the zonal championship.
“We will go back and work on our lapses because we know the zonal competition will be very tough. We have noticed that the girls need improvement in some areas. We will correct them before we hit Lagos.
“We commend Nestlé for the platform because it has ensured that students from every nook and cranny of this nation participates in the game. It would have been almost impossible for students from the Far North, particularly our zone the North East to get an opportunity to participate in a championship of this magnitude.”
While his colleagues are dreaming of glory at the national finals, Daniel Odar Nathaniel of Yagai Academy, Jalingo, Taraba State, is pleading with Nestle and other well meaning Nigerians to develop sports facilities in schools in Northern Nigeria.
He said, “We are heroes to our fellow students just because we were able to come here. Now, everybody wants to play basketball, but the unfortunate thing is that we don’t have good facilities for the game.
“I want to plead with Nestle to, apart from the rewards to players and schools, help us by providing courts and other facilities in our schools. I am sure some other schools lack the basic facilities too. Having said that, I want to add that I am happy that I have reached this height and I plan to go further in the game,” he said.