It is another landmark achievement for the wife of the Ondo State Governor, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu. As it is well known, she is a very serious tennis enthusiast who has loved the sport over the years. As a matter of fact, two of her student-participants at the Ibadan tennis clinic few year ago at some point got scholarship and are now settled in America. Thus, as Ondo State Summer Tennis Clinic rounded off, it is obviously another set of history is in the making.

These kids may not be able to understand the depth of the knowledge and skill they have acquired from these world class coaches and international stars in these weeks of training, but in a few years from now, their stories will begin to unfold on the world stage.

On 24th August 2017, the Ondo State Summer Tennis Clinic kicked off for children between the ages 4-13 years and in the words of the First Lady, Arabinrin Anyanwu- Akeredolu, the essence of the clinic was to begin the process of discovering future champions of the game in Nigeria. The first lady of Ondo State, who emphasized the importance of identifying and developing potential skills of the young ones observed that efforts must be made to encourage sports development particularly at the grassroots.

“This clinic is essentially to identify and develop talents in our children. It is important to encourage sports development among youths in the state, particularly at the grassroots level in order to discover and develop potentials, skills of the young ones who are capable of becoming champions in the nearest future.

“The benefits of catching our youths young, especially in sports cannot be over emphasized. Let us look at champions like the Williams sisters; Venue and Serena Williams, who started as young as three years and have gone on to win numerous awards and break glass ceiling, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Billie Jean king just to mention a few.”, she stressed.

Thus, in the last two weeks, the children have been receiving training from the best crop of professionals in the world of tennis. Top on that list is Nduka Odizor; known as The Duke, famously got to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1983 and also rose as high as number 40 in the world, learned to play tennis in Lagos and was spotted by a visiting University of Houston professor, who sponsored his move to Texas, where Odizor became an all-American for Houston.
Nduka Odizor was just a poor child, a ball boy in Ikoyi Tennis Club, Lagos were he learnt the discipline of Tennis through playing with club members  whenever some partners do not show up for Tennis match at the club.

The passion with which Nduka Odizor dishes out his wealth of knowledge to these kids can obviously be tied to the fact that he can relate with them as he started playing tennis himself at the age of thirteen. He believes that tennis is a microcosm of life itself.

“Playing tennis is like a microcosm of life. What you see in tennis is what you have in real life. The English word for teaching them is a verb- ‘train’. We train them and that means continuity. If you want   a child to sit down and he gets up, you must tell him the consequences of his action. If the child gets up again, you must tell him the reason why he must sit down is XYZ. Overtime, the child will know why you told him to sit down- You can’t kill the child because he disobeyed you the first time or the second time; you cannot kill him. You have to train them – that is what we have been doing here”, he further stressed.

On how the programme can be sustained over time, Nduka Odizor affirmed that though it is difficult to ascertain the number of the kids that would follow through with the training, he was optimistic that if government continues with the initiative, much would be attained.

“In America, there is a saying that everybody cannot be a chief, there has got to be some Indians. Ultimately, all these students may not be good players but just like the First Lady enabled two of her student participants in Ibadan Tennis Clinic who at some point gained scholarship to America and are now successful lawyers; things can happen again and that is because Tennis gives an enabling environment to become disciplined. It gives you the opportunity to be good at whatever field of endeavour you follow. Some will follow Tennis and take the discipline learned in Tennis to become responsible members of the society.

Rilake Olagbegi Kazeem was also on ground to impact the kids. She comes from a family of Tennis Player. She came into the limelight when her cousin, when her tennis skills was challenged by one of her cousins.
“I was once a Volley Baller”, she says. “ I was trying to be different from the Olateru Olagbegis’ because we all know how to play tennis. So I started with Volley Ball. One day, I was playing across this side of town which had a tennis court. A cousin of mine, Layi Ogunrinde was visiting from New York and when my brother asked if I had the potential, he simply said: ‘No’. So, I began to improve upon myself and that same year, I became Ondo State No 1 in Tennis.
“I am the oldest Olagbegi to start tennis, we start normally at the age of 4 but I was 12years old when I started. It was his co when I started. It was only because of his comment that I felt challenged to play.

Rolake Olagbegi has traversed the world and that depth of experience is what she has brought home to impact Ondo State children, a dream which she says has come true with the facilitation of the First Lady.
“For me, this is not only a way of giving back; my number one priority is to curb crime because an idle mind is the devils workshop. Anything can happen after now; they might end up earning Guinness scholarship. In the long run, they will benefit.

 

“Some of these children have never touched the racket before and now they are able to do that.  In Ondo State, my game plan is for them to come in, have free racket, free balls, just show up. If we have adequate equipment, the parents won’t mind bringing the kids. That is my game plan. You cannot be waiting for the government to do everything for you. For me, this is a prayer being answered, I did it alone last year, I had like 130 kids and I was the only one. And for the First Lady to come up with this, it is quite laudable” Rolake Olagbegi further affirms noting that the kids are talented.
This programme initially was designed to train about a 100 children but today, it has over 200 student participants and according to the Chairman of the Ondo State Tennis Clinic, Otunba (Engr) Olumuyiwa Sonuga, the response has been tremendously encouraging.
“What Arabirin Akeredolu has been able to do with this programme is to leave a legacy. When we embarked on this project, our mission was simply to create awareness and introduce the young ones to tennis as a physical health education and also develop them to become professionals from which level they can begin to take advantage of opportunities of becoming coaches; they can even go into sport wear business among others.
“Initially we planned for a 100 student, now we have over 200 and some are still registering. We are hoping to take this to other senatorial districts. We are all encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by the kids and even by their parents. We are happy that all our efforts yielded result. We are going to monitor these children development as they grow in ages and we are also not going to lose sight of their academic development”, Otunba Sonuga added.

On how the committee plans to sustain the project, Otunba Sonuga expressed optimism that more corporate bodies and individual would join in the project as it is citizen driven.
Other members on the board of the committee include Mr. Tony Omonori, Prince Adewale Olateru-Olagbegi, Mrs. Joyce Akinbulumo, Mr. Martins Adeojo, Adewunmi Olabanji, Blessing Akinlosotu, Henry Babatunde, Steve Olateru Olagbegi and a representative from Ibadan Tennis Club.

One of the Coach, Adeyemi Yekini Kasali, a former international tennis player thanked the First Lady for the initiative while urging the people of the state to take ownership of the project.

“Most of the big names we have underwent this kind of programme when they were young. The challenge is that most people start very late but we are trying to build stars that will start very early so that there is no reason to lie about your age”, he noted.

Some of the young stars to look out for include Adewale Segun from Akure High School, a 13 years old boy who wants to become an international tennis start years to come. Others include Adeniyi Roland from Oyemekun Grammar School, Omotosho Tolu and Adeyemi Christiana from Messiah High School and in one word, they expressed appreciation for this opportunity stressing that they would forever be grateful for it.
In the words of Olajide Fashiku, plans are already in top gear to set up a national south west development centre in Ondo State as a part of sustaining the game of Tennis Clinic. Another inetrational star who came to encourage these young players is Mary Onyali (MFR).

“I started at age 6 to play and I see myself in them. It is a win-win situation for these kids. You know I was discovered in my primary school days by luck. I never had this kind of opportunity; you cannot have it better than this”, she stressed.