It was a gathering recently in Aba of some of the best footballers and athletes, who made the old Imo State a reservoir of talents in the late 1970s and 1980s. They were the heroes of schools sports in the state; some went on to become international stars.
Schools sports in the old Imo State was a festival that brought out all the budding talents in the system such that inter-school competitions and local government championships, which featured mainly students, drew spectators from all the major towns to the arenas. These fans came in anticipation of seeing the budding stars in action and joining in the arguments usually generated by the thrills and feats displayed at such occasions.
But all these are now discussed nostalgically by people, who remember the role school sports played in making the old Imo State one of the states to beat in national competitions in those days. Now they have a reason to be optimistic that the good old days would soon be back in Abia State.
Gathered at the Enyimba Stadium, Aba, some of these retired footballers that included Onwusogh Uche (elder brother to Super Eagles former stars, Ikechukwu and Kalu), Harry Iwuala, Ikechukwu Ogbonna, Ifeanyi Eke and Emeka Nnaji, reminisced on the benefits they derived from school sports.
Recently, Dr. Alex Otti, who is one of the gubernatorial aspirants in the state, during his campaign trails, said he would make school sports the nexus of his youth empowerment programme if elected as governor of the state.
Reacting to that promise, Onwusogh Uche, who captained Ngwa High School in 1982, said the army of unemployed youths in the state could become a source of revenue for the state if Abia State embarked on a programme that would help to develop their talents to international level.
He said, “There was a time when Abia State produced as many as six players in every squad of the senior national team, the Super Eagles. These are apart from those who played for the junior national teams and even some who never played for any national team but were discovered and taken overseas where they earned a lot of money.
“Such monies were eventually repatriated to Abia State and many of our people benefitted from that. Now, apart from Kenneth Omeruo and Samuel Kalu, we don’t have anybody in the Super Eagles.
“This is because there has not been a concerted effort to develop the young talents we have in this state.
“So, if Alex Otti, who was prominent in Ngwa High School in those days, have chosen to do the right thing by going back to the basics, it is a welcome development. We will hold him to his promise.”
Reminiscing on school sports in Abia State, Harry Iwuala, who played football for Eziama High School, Aba, said most of the players who went on to play for Enugu Rangers and Spartans of Owerri in the 1970s and early 1980s, were products of schools sports.
“I can still remember matches involving Eziama High School against National High School, All Saints Ehere Aba against Government College, Owerri or the Methodist College Uzuakoli versus Government College Umuahia matches.
“These competitions produced stars, who joined national league teams straight from secondary school. Nicholas Ukadike, Okey Ohaka, Idika Aku, Sunny Ikwuagwu, Evans Ikwuegbu, Emma Ajunwa, Igoni Wabara, Okey Uduko and Ugochukwu Harrison joined Spartans immediately after their secondary school education.
“Others like Justus Ewendu, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, Totti Totti, Mike Emenalo, Benji Okorogu, Chimezie Nwanaga, Paul Yusuf, Ndubuisi Ajomiwe and Ogechukwu Aja joined Enugu Rangers.
“Apart from football, students like Chidi Imo, Dele Udo, Iruma Ogba, Obinna Iroegbu, Oluchi Ogwo, Alaoma Abia and Tina Iheagwam made names in athletics, handball and other sports.”
Iwuala believes that Abia State would rise beyond the current mediocrity if Alex Otti fulfilled his promise to revisit school sports after the elections.