Gains of grassroots engagement
The takeaway for us is that we have started noticing consistency. States have keyed into the idea of grassroots scrabble developments because if you noticed, for the scrabble events at this year’s National Youth Games (NYG), threes states carted away virtually all the medals available.
It was between Akwa-Ibom, Lagos and Plateau State, both in the singles and the doubles event with male and female participating. The only new entrant into it was the Federal Capital Territory. They got a bronze for the doubles, category male. So that is good. That means the coaches are being consistent. That means they are training the kids.
For us, that means the future growth of scrabble is assured. So for us, that is good and we are happy that the NYG has come to stay and scrabble is going to continuously feature subsequently. For us also, the re-introduction of scrabble into the sports festival is also a plus for us. Now the Nigerian Scrabble Federation (NSF) has a school scrabble initiative program that it has started.
We’ve started with the pilot in some states which we do scrabble and we combine them with spelling bees for secondary schools. In some areas, we are doing for primary schools. So the whole idea is that we are trying to carry out massive so that people will see that scrabble as a tool for academic development, as a tool for building self-confidence, as a tool for special awareness, that means being in control of your environment or your particular area.
Take for example; when you mount the scrabble ball and you’re consistent, then you become fully aware of the board in itself. So, for us, it is good and we are happy that the kids have shown potentials and with the words they’ve played, that means they are reading, that means their coaches are guiding them well. So for us this year’s NYG has been a remarkable successful youth games.
Nigerian Scrabble Athletes’ exposure
In the sense of the progression, no! For me, this is my second participation in the youth games as the Technical Director. Now, the next ideal thing would be for this set that we discovered to represent Nigeria at the world youth scrabble championships. We’ve not been able to achieve that because of funding gaps, sponsorship to take these students to attend the championship.
Now because it’s capital intensive, usually we know what we tend to do is to rely on the parents who are well-to-do. Incidentally, well-to-do their children are not participating in this.
Some rich Parents that their Children take part do not see the reason why they should sponsor any other person, other than their own wards. So for us, that has been one of the challenges.
But in the other aspect, the set that participated last year is a little bit different on the set that participated this year. Now the girls that got the gold medal for the single event in Plateau for the ladies in 2017, got silver and bronze this time around. That means the competition was stiffer which is good.
Now there are a lot of other states have also featured for the first time. We have Bauchi, Benue, Bayelsa, Osun and Abia. So this is good for us. Adamawa also came. Gombe gave one or two excuses, but gradually and hopefully by the fifth edition, more states will be keen to take part seeing that this thing is viable, because one of the mandates given by the president of the scrabble federation to the zonal coordinators is that you need to grow scrabble.
So by next edition, all board members have been mandated that their states where they are resident must feature and then they must get an additional state to join up. So if we have six zonal coordinators, if each bring two from their zone that is 12 with the normal ones that always turn up. So that would mean that we are targeting 25 to 30 states.
This time around, we had 20 states accredited to participate, eventually, 16 of them featured fully. So you see, compared to last year that we had about 13. So you can see with the number has increased and by the Grace of God, we believe next year, the number will also improve because of the sensitization.
The beauty of it is that even the Ministry of Youths and Sports, their vision is to grow the youth games, because that is where the talents are, that is the talent hunt. If we are able to discover talents from the youth games and nurture them well, groom them the standard way it is done internationally, I believe in the future, at least our hopes for medals be it in the Olympics, be it if we get our acts right, I think we will revive sports, our international participation in sports.
We’re worried, yes and no. Worried that maybe we’ve not leverage so much on the successes recorded by our Athletes including Wellington in the past and present. But at the same time, we are not worried because it’s work in progress. We never anticipated his victory but as God will have it he made a remarkable feat. Thunder would have struck a second time in Kenya, last year if not for a little hitch but what is happening is that now scrabble at least in the Nigeria’s stock exchange, they are aware of scrabble after Wellington’s feat.
He has visited other places, we’ve gone to states but for us, what we are targeting is that we want to do it in such a way that we focus more on youth development. A lot of sponsors do not see the mileage they get for scrabble per say because it is not a spectator sports but we intend to tell them that look; we could make Scrabble champions, brand ambassadors of your either products or goods or services. But then, we are working on that. For us, we feel if we are able to go well into the school’s aspects, leverage and we have large states that will help, we’ve been able to take scrabble to schools both secondary and primary schools, and we’ve been able to do probably a maiden national championship, we believe the sponsors will come running to us. So, it is work in progress, yes, we could have leveraged on our previous successes, but the beauty of it is that we have a world scrabble champion that is a Nigerian that nobody can take away. So at anytime, wherever we are going to run, we take Wellington with us, we say, this is a world scrabble champion.
Massive scrabble awareness, my vision
My major focus is for us to take scrabble to the nooks and crannies of this country, to virtually all the states in Nigeria. I believe we can set up our school scrabble initiative in all the states in Nigeria, and we are able to do the maiden national school championship. That for me is my ultimate goal and vision. And even after serving the Nigerian scrabble federation as technical Director, it is my passion to continue to propagate scrabble, because there is nothing as good as seeing the looks on the faces of the kids when they play.
The beauty of scrabble is that you teach them. Once you’ve done the basic, they play amongst themselves, they record, you’ll see emotions in play. You’ll see them trying their best. They make mistakes, you’ll go round, and you’ll see the mistakes that they are making.
Yes, we have not gotten to where we want to get to but we are working towards that. Interestingly, unless you are passionate about scrabble, support it, you won’t make much impact.
A good example is the distinguished Senator Godswill Akpabio. Because of his passion for scrabble, that was why we are able to do the Godswill Akpabio Classics. In those days, they use to do one in West African, I think by one company if I’m not mistaken was in Lagos, because we had somebody there who was passionate about scrabble.
So we are able to do it. In Adamawa then, the late paramount ruler of the Bachama Kingdom, was passionate about scrabble. We were able to do the Turaki Adamawa Scrabble Championship for a period of time. It lasted for about five years because he was passionate about it. So until we get to that stage where companies will now start being passionate about scrabble development, when they see that by supporting the scrabble federation, they will get the mileage they are looking for.
Changes in scrabble play pattern
Back then, you strictly have to get access to the dictionary itself, the book, for research. Now, things have changed. There are computers, laptops, even the phones or hanset. So they can do their research there. Apps that will guide you, make things easier, learning easier is available.
Now there is the social angle to scrabble. With whatsapp, you have groupings, people in various groups. Since there are whatsapp groups, there are social scrabble. People now play scrabble and interact. So when we go and play a competition, at the end of the day, we will interact. You know, continuously like that.
So, it also helps in growing the sport. We are hoping to translate social scrabble to school scrabble. That means these social groups that are on whatsapp, that are propagating their social scrabble will look forward and say ok, let us propagate the school scrabble also. Those that are champions already should be mentors in their various host communities. It is getting to that point, probably, but they are now realizing that they need to give back.
Nigeria has won all the scrabble championship except one. Since the beginning of the African scrabble championship, we have won all, except one. And that one we came second. Which means, we have no excuse for not developing school scrabble because of the height have attained in the continent. We are currently the best, among other countries. We are current world champion for the second year in a row. After 2015, now 2017. We are best country in the world. We are ranked number one scrabble playing nation in the world.
Currently, Moses Peter is currently Nigeria’s number and the world number after his exploits in Kenya last year. After the championship, he was ranked second, but the team came 1st. So, they were also 1st in Australia. So, this time around they retained the title. They came 1st also. That means we are retaining title in a row. We are ranked as the best scrabble playing nation in the world. Hopefully, by end of November or early December, We’ll be attending a championship. It’s like our own scrabble cup of nations, with the best scrabble playing nations. The six continents will converge at Malaysia to slug it out. I think, there will be five representatives from each zone. The team that emerge first will get the best scrabble playing nation trophy. So by God’s Grace, we are working on that. We hope to go there to defend our title and to make Nigeria proud.
2015 World Champions, Wellington Jighere