Nestle prides itself as an organisation that had been in the forefront of grassroots sports in the country with its yearly Milo Secondary Schools Basketball Championship. Beyond that, the competition has also helped keep kids in schools and out of streets writes Kunle Adewale
Â Spectators at the Sports Hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, could not help but pitch their support for Rivers State representative, Community Secondary School, Pabod, Port Harcourt, at the Equatorial Conference of the 19th Milo Basketball Championship. This was not only because of the unique basketball artistry displayed by the kids but by virtue of their small size. The Rivers team was the youngest in age and smallest of stature, which made many to wonder how they would cope against the bigger boys some of whom were double their sizes.
Their coach and mentor, Fubara Onyenabo however said, â€œwhat they lack in size, they augment with team work and technical ability.â€
In their quarter final encounter against Anambra State, the Rivers State team proved they not only had the brain to outwit bigger opponents but also the will, as they out-dunked their opponent.
However, in their semifinal match against the eventual winner and perhaps the biggest side, in terms of size, Ebonyi State representative, St. Augustine Seminary, Ezzamgbo, an encounter that was believed to be the game of the Equatorial Conference, it was a ding dong affair in which the â€˜Rivers kidsâ€™ led up to the third quarter, but by the fourth quarter, the winner however proved that size and indeed height was a big factor in basketball and they used it to outwit their opponent.
It was not surprising when the kids from Rivers eventually caved in and the dream of visiting Lagos was in ruin, but they left Enugu with their shoulders high.
They did not leave empty handed though. They went home with the bronze medal and a footprint.
Speaking with THISDAY, Coach Onyenabo said it was the first time the school would be participating in the Milo Secondary School Basketball, adding that their aim was not really to win but to test-run his boys and have a feel of how the competition was but promised to be back bigger at the next edition.
â€œThe ultimate aim is to expose them to the biggest stage as far as basketball is concerned. Most of them came from the volatile part of the state where cultism was the order of the day but I have been able to shield them away from trouble through the Da-F Basketball Academy, which sponsors most of them to schoolâ€, Onyenabo said.
Ebuka Okpara, who is the best player for the side said he was happy to have gone home with a bronze medal, but would have been happier to have made it to the national finals in Lagos as he was yet to travel to that part of the country.
â€œI have heard a lot of stories about Lagos and was hoping to be there one day, and I felt Milo Basketball would have provided the platform to achieve that objective,â€ Okpara said.
However, that is just half the story of the Community Secondary School, PABOD, Port Harcourt, boys.
The true story about these kids was that for basketball they would have added to the number of boys terrorising the streets of Port Harcourt and its environs as most of the came from the volatile part of the state-Niger Axis and Abuja, where cultism, drugs usage and guns firing are the order of the day.
For a member of the team, Yusuf Rasheed, he would never have thought of going to school as his parents could not afford his school fees and would probably have been in the streets.
â€œPlaying basketball gave me the opportunity to be in school because my parents could not afford sending me to school. By playing basketball, it takes care of my school fees,â€ he said.
Ifeayni Anthony Koko had similar story to tell, as he also leverage on playing basketball to return to school, while some of his colleges that do not have such luxury are now roaming the streets and looking for ways to make ends meet.
Milo believes that children who are physically active in exercise and sports are less likely to be obese and most likely to do well all round. It is a brand that is known for building future champions. Having steered this cause for 19 consecutive years and still counting, milo uses sports as a metaphor to teach school children the important life skills such as determination, confidence, discipline, teamwork and respect.
Over 9,000 schools from the 36 states and the FTC jostled for the prestigious trophy of champions.
Winners in both male and female categories in the conference were rewarded with the championship trophies and various cash rewards for the development of sports facilities in their respective schools.
This yearâ€™s national finals is slated for Lagos from June 11-17, where each of the male and female winners from the four conferences would be contesting for the grand trophy.