Two very significant things happened in my life in the year 2005.
The first is that I went to the United States of America to participate in my first World Scholar-Athletes games, an assembly of secondary school pupils from over 150 countries in various disciplines of sports coming together to celebrate the true essence of sports – that every participant is a winner.
The second thing is that I turned the soil and laid the foundation stone of SOCA, the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy (originally called The International Sports Academy, TIA).
At the games, there were no individual medals to be won. The teams were set up in a mix of students from different countries interested in a particular sport. The new teams now played against each other in matches that only celebrated participation, teamwork, honesty, good conduct, fair play, friendship and leadership. Individual performances, although well appreciated, were not rewarded with medals or trophies, whilst all the participants were celebrated and given medals common to all.
In addition to the actual, very competitive games there were also very robust intellectual workshops held at intervals during the period with very interesting resource persons across various sectors of human endeavor to pry open interesting global issues.
The conversations were designed to provide invaluable information, to stimulate discussion, interrogate issues, throw light on different perspectives and guide young students on the opportunities available to fully participate in the global games of life, driven by the engine of sports.
Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker on the final day. That was my first close encounter with the former United States president.
Along with him, there were several other international scholars and famous athletes that made presentations and had an open house with the global audience of students and all the other participants.
It was an eye-opener for me.
At one of the sessions I listened to Dr. Jubril Diallo, a Senegalese, head of a unit in the United Nations Organisation freshly given the responsibility to introduce sport as a new tool to drive the attainment of aspects of the Millennium Development Goals that had to do with eradicating hunger, illiteracy, poverty, disease, and HIV/AIDS in the world by the year 2015!
During that particular session I saw for the first time, very clearly, how sports could become a very powerful instrument in the globalization of humanity as propounded and presented by President Clinton.
Getting back to Nigeria that year, I set about taking my thoughts and idea about establishing an institution that would make a meaningful, measurable, and effective contribution to attaining those lofty global objectives in my local environment to the realm of actualization.
One year into the project design, at a private conversation with the President of Newberry College, a private university owned by the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, USA, where my friend, Sam Okpodu, was head coach at the time, I shared my dream. The president wanted to know how much the school project would cost, how I intended to fund it and how I would measure its eventual success.
They were very relevant questions to which I had no easy answer at the time.
I came back to Nigeria and hired some consultants to do a financial projection and plan for the dream school.
One day I went to check up on the consultants as they were working on the figures. I took one glance at the figures they had come up with up till that point, with still some ways to go. I almost fainted in shock.
After that experience I knew that the only way the project would advance beyond that point was for me to never even think of the figures again; about how and where I would raise the funds needed to actualize my dream.
And I never did again. I never went back to the consultants again. Even the initial deposit I paid them was forfeited.
The figure I saw was N1.4 Billion naira, with more still to come! A billion what? A billion of anything was beyond what I could even imagine at the time.
It was like trying to drive a car to planet Mars.
Where would I even begin the process of thinking where such monies would come from?
So, I did the only thing possible – take a chance and dive into the unknown. Just start something and build up slowly and steadily until such a time that there would be enough facilities on ground to start a functional school. That’s exactly what I did. I knew it was a bad business strategy, but that was the only way for me.
My greatest motivation and comfort were that I was venturing into a new territory, something without precedence, nothing to compare it with, so, nothing to fear about ‘failure’ to cause me depression!
I set a date for its take off, and two years after the sod of the soil was turned and the first blocks were laid, the school started to function. It has not stopped since then, despite all the hiccups and challenges along the way, all teething problems that will ease off with time, patience, perseverance and hard work!
It has been 10 years of a truly remarkable journey – challenging, exciting, fulfilling and daunting.
As I start the preparation to celebrate the 10thanniversary of this laboratory of learning and sport, I cannot help but pay a special tribute to a few persons and organisations that have supported in making this dream become reality.
The school that started with 27 students and two senior classes only has now grown to accommodate all 6 junior and secondary school classes –JSS1 to SS3.
For 7 years the school has been graduating students that have largely fulfilled its primary objective of getting a first class education in an environment that will help to hone first class sports talents.
SOCA is growing. Sports and academics have been promoted side by side in this unique school and the results and its ambassadors are there for all to see.
Every year now in the past 6 years, or so, a number of graduates of the school, armed with excellent results in WAEC, high scores in their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and with vast improvement in their sports skills have become exciting targets for US College and High School coaches.
In 6 years, 35 students from SOCA have been admitted into High schools, colleges and universities in the USA purely on their merit, and on full scholarships enjoying the best of two worlds – pursuing their passion for sport with their need for education.
SOCA was nominated a few years ago for an international award by Beyond Sports, a UK-based international organization, for its social inclusion achievements around the Wasimi Orile community environment where it is located in Ogun State.
Beyond that, many of its students also are in Nigerian universities with a friendly disposition to sports, or in an unwritten relationship with SOCA, ensuring continuity of SOCA’s philosophy of combining sports and education in an equal and balanced measure.
It will be 10 years in November since that laboratory of learning and sports was established with the help of a few persons and organisations. I must pay some humble tribute toJulius Berger Plc,FCMB, De-UnitedFoods (
The school is now a full-fledged, co-educational (for boys and girls) secondary school, fully residential (all-boarding), and runs 4 different sports academies – football, tennis, basketball and athletics!
To mark the 10thanniversary, an elaborate ceremony is being planned that will once again highlight the vision of the school and open it up to interested organisations, State governments, and individuals that may want to have something to do with the school’s vision and choose to support or patronize it. SOCA is a Non-governmental, non-profit sharing school of excellence.
The sports school still has a long way to go to attain the zenith of its development, but it is on course, slowly, steadily and surely! It is my legacy to Nigeria!