Grassroots basketball is gaining traction in Northern Nigeria, and one high school in Niger state is using the sport and education to combat youth restlessness and assist difficult areas.
The O’Connell Warriors are the school’s basketball team, and they have won the national secondary school basketball championship for the past three years.
This basketball team’s winning journey began at the father O’Connell science college, officially known as Gss.
The school was renamed in 2018 in honour of the late Catholic missionary priest reverend father O’Connell who was it’s founding principal.
For over 25 years this secondary school in Niger state has excelled in basketball just as much in academics.
A foundation laid by the late Irish missionary priest father O’Connell since the establishment of the school as a missionary school in 1965 before it was taken over by the government.
The school is located at the entrance of the GRA but directly opposite it is angwan daji, a community known for youth restiveness in the heart of Minna the state capital.
Teenagers from this neighborhood often engage in gang fights on this street after school hours.
One coach stands out in this journey of victories.
Emmanuel Tanko played in this team as a student of the school and for the past 16 years he has led the school team to successive victories.
The determination of these boys is to play in the NBA someday but arriving there is no small task with little or no funds to support training and attend tournaments.
The reward system over the years has been quite poor which makes going for tournaments quite challenging.
Despite these remarkable records of repeatedly winning trophies over the years, the head coach, Emmanuel Tanko, and his assistant are neither employed nor under any type of contract with the school or the state.
Year after year, they have continued to provide professional basketball training to kids.
To realize their ambitions of playing professional basketball and making the national team, these kids must be consistent, and the source of cash must be strictly monitored, since this has become a part of the struggle.
There are allegations that monies have been released by the state government but it gets cut in half before it gets to the team.
But through its education and basketball initiative, the school is helping to educate some of the boys from the neighborhood and also giving them opportunity to play basketball, a strategy to keep them off the street and strengthen the school’s community impact initiative.
The school’s trophy shelf is crowded with trophies won from outstanding performances in basketball tournaments across Nigeria.
But the journey hasn’t been easy.
Among its many challenges, is balancing what comes first between basketball and academics for the students
Insufficient funding is another, which the new government is expected to correct as part of its educational policy.