When I returned from my American trip to the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 2006 my dream was very clear: to establish not just a sports secondary school, but the best such school in the world. I was determined to make it happen. I did not know how it would happen, but in my mind’s eye all I could see was a school populated by exceptionally gifted young boys and girls, devoting all their time and energy, 24/7, to becoming the best scholar/athletes in the world. These would be mostly young Nigerians that will traverse the worlds of scholarship and athletics like a Colossus.
From 2005 when actual construction started, it took me almost two years to set up enough facilities to eventually take-off. My plan was that within 5 years the school would have a maximum capacity population of 100 boys and 20 girls, all would be resident on the campus, and all would be going through a unique, modern teaching/learning methodology designed for students with learning difficulty. I took it for granted that the students would comprise mostly those that parents would have ‘trouble’ with as they come loaded with unbridled passion for sports (football, in particular), to the detriment of their academics being forced on them by worried parents.
A happy medium between the two worlds (of sports and of education) would be a great compromise for parents. That combination, of Education and Sports, would always sell, particularly in this part of the world. That was my goal, a world-class institution that would dwarf whatever America offered young children. America was the benchmark. That’s why I travelled there twice during the preparatory period to understudy what the country’s specialist sports institutions were doing. I was determined to do more and do them better.
But no sooner did I start than the dream became a tall order. When I got some financial consultants to start the computation of the cost of establishing even a mini version of the school, the initial figures were so staggering that I had to stop the work half way, in frustration. I never looked at the figures again. It has been almost 14 years since then. To look at the figures would be to see ‘impossibility’ and to abandon the project. So, I worked without a budget against all business model norms. It took one and a half years after the first structures were put on ground for me to meet the projected target of starting the school in the summer of 2006. Resumption was postponed by 3 months and the school actually started in January of 2007 with a student-enrolment of 27 students in two classes (SS1 and SS2). They became the pioneers of this unique laboratory of learning and sports.
In the eleventh year of its establishment, I am now taking stock in preparation for the next level of my initial dream. I am still only about a tenth of the way to completing all the infrastructure originally designed to accommodate and effectively train the 120-student population of the school. Otherwise, nothing is completed. Not the classrooms, or the laboratories, or libraries, or training facilities, hostels, offices, studios, pitches, etc. Two days ago, I visited the students and decided to share the story of the school with the 70-odd number in the school presently, far from the target of 120.
The students were blown away by my stories of the unbelievable challenges that I have faced every passing day of the past 11 years. Of course, I also proudly told them of a few of the monumental achievements: the international recognition and awards for social inclusiveness of the school in the community; several invitations to me as resource person to tell my experiences; an invaluable source of data on the impact and effect of intensive physical activity on young students; and so on. I told them how most products of the school have now become the school’s best ambassadors in the US, creating a growing army of successful alumni that are authenticating my vision, and returning home to add value and to give needed support to the dream.
At the last count, in the past 7 years over 50 of the school’s slightly over 100 graduates have been admitted into American colleges and universities on full or partial scholarships to study and to continue to hone their sport. All of them have gone and demonstrated good conduct and discipline in their American institutions that have made The International Sports Academy, TIA, aka, Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy, SOCA, as small as it is, a great model of success in the USA collegiate system.
For the records only, as a non-profit institution, no student paid fees during the school’s first two years. I believed State governments would gladly team up with me to offer talented students from their States scholarships in exchange for the students representing the State at junior national competitions, adding to the statistics of children enrolled into schools, and cutting down frightening illiteracy numbers.
I convinced the governor of Borno State some years ago to sponsor 5 students from his State to the school on scholarship as an experiment. He agreed and did so. The students joined in SS1 having completed their JSS in Maiduguri. It was a most revealing experiment that should have been followed up if only the State government paid close attention and realized the magnitude of the achievement.
The students’ academic standard when they arrived was no higher than that of primary school pupils. None of them could speak much English, and their numeracy was abysmal. We created special classes for all five in the first year, and for two of them in the last two years of their studies. Three of the students are now University graduates. It was a great experiment that should have helped in gauging how effective sports could be as an inducement for education for students in the North East of Nigeria where Western form of education is considered a taboo. Sports erased that taboo.
In the academy, students go through a rigorous four hours of sports every day. The school is still ‘searching’ for an additional two hours in a day to extend the daily sports input to six hours. That would make the dream of producing potential Olympic champions out of that laboratory in Wasimi Orile, near Abeokuta in Ogun State, a reality. The school, in 11 years, has been a great source of inspiration for many young boys and girls, even though it is still far from my dream of becoming the best sports school in the world. Now I am about to take a giant leap into that ultimate dream. I am taking a shot in the dark, but take it I must, in faith. This is it.
By September of 2019, in 6 months’ time, the school’s population shall rise to between 100 and 120 students. At least 20 of the students shall be female, and, for the first time since the school started, the girls will also live on the campus. In September 2019, also, there will be enough facilities to drive the school at full steam. In September 2019, the legendary American sprinter, scholar and world renowned coach, Lee Evans, will join the school’s program as a partner. With degrees in Physical and Health Education, impeccable records as an athlete (Olympic Gold medalist, World Champion and World record holder) and an intimidation record of developing young world beater-athletes in Jamaica, USA, Tanzania, Nigeria, etc, Lee comes to the table ready to help me achieve my dream of the best sports and education school in the world. He will become SOCA’s global ambassador and within the next three years, that ultimate dream will materialize.
Thank You Lee.
Watch out and go to the website: www.socaschool.com. (@socashool.com)