A team of U-15 girls from Benue State on Wednesday, March 31, reached the finals of the 2021 National U-18 girls handball championship in Lagos where they lost to Bayelsa State. In this interview with Trust Sports, Coach Godwin Tondo ‘Gordons’, explained how he assembled the teenage girls from a school in a remote area of Benue State to shock older and more exposed opponents at the championship.
How satisfied are you with the performance of your team in the just concluded national U-18 girls handball championship?
I am very satisfied with the performance of my teenage girls who travelled out of their state for the first time but refused to be intimidated. Secondly, we didn’t have enough preparation and sponsorship so I am very satisfied.
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How many matches did your team play en route to the finals?
We lost our opening match 9-20 to Bayelsa State. Undaunted, we drew our second match with Kogi State 15-15 and won against Oyo 33-7 to reach the semi finals where we defeated Lagos 20-19. We met Bayelsa State in the finals. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take back our pound of flesh as it ended 18-9 against us. However, I wasn’t disappointed with the performance of the players.
What would you say was responsible for the defeat in the finals?
I will blame our defeat on my inability to provide three square meals for my players. We didn’t have enough money so feeding became a problem. As a matter of fact, I salute the girls’ courage. The second reason is that most of the school principals refused to release some of the talented players I had identified for the championship.
How then were you able to assemble the team that competed in the tournament?
It will interest you to know that all my players are from one school, Holy Family Catholic Secondary School Jato-Aka in Benue State. I am actually the school coach of Notre Dame Secondary School Gboko. When we participated in the All Catholic School Games in Gboko Diocese, I saw and pencilled down some talented players for any future engagement. When this opportunity came, I approached some of the Catholic schools but they refused to release their students. Fortunately for me, the Principal and the Priest in charge of Holy Family Catholic School Jato-Aka allowed their girls to participate. That was how I raised the squad made up of Nzere Angela, Najime Doose, Mariestella Anum, Emmanuella kogh, Mercy Aondona, Geh Patience, Msendoo Richard, Ngunengen Hwange, Agber Mimidoo and Stella Orduen and the rest is now history.
Why the name Gboko Volunteers?
A sports lover and philanthropist, Dr Eugene Ivase put together the Gboko Volunteers which has handball, basketball and volleyball teams. He called the youths of Gboko with like minds in sports to educate them on the need to stay healthy and shun all social vices. His vision was embraced and today we have the volunteers for over two decades. As the name implies, we voluntarily travelled to Lagos under the sponsorship of Dr. Ivase.
Didn’t you get support from any other source?
I must not forget to mention the support from one of our own, I mean a member of the Volunteers, Mr. Aondona Fanyam who works with the Nigerian customs. He personally called to draw my attention to the advertisement on the national U-18 and U-21 championship in Lagos. When I told him there was no money for us to attend, he quickly asked me to put together a budget for him to see if he can assist and he indeed supported us financially. We can’t thank him enough.
Considering that the team was going to represent Benue State, didn’t you get any financial support from the government?
The state government didn’t support us in any way. I doubt very much if anyone in government knew we were in Lagos making the state proud. It is sad to say that in Benue State everything is about Lobi Stars football club. Lobi Stars seem to be the only sport in the state. So we didn’t even bother to approach the government for funds. It would have been the same old story of ‘no money’.
Given the above scenario you have painted, how were you able to motivate your players to deliver results?
Motivation in contemporary sports is telling your athletes the truth. Right from the beginning, I told the girls the truth that we had no money and they believed me. I told them that there was no money but they will not be hungry in Lagos. Secondly, I told them it was an avenue for them to make a name for themselves which is greater than money and they keyed into the programme. Furthermore, when we arrived in Lagos, the president of handball federation, Mr Sam Ocheho after seeing the youthfulness of the team encouraged us financially and morally to ensure we didn’t withdraw from the championship.
Apart from the silver medal, did your players win individual awards?
Yes, my goalkeeper won the Best Goalkeeper of the U-18 Category and my pivot player, a 13 year old girl Nzere Angela who is a JS 2 student of Holy Family Catholic School Jato-Aka won the Most Valuable Player award.
Now that your team has qualified to represent Nigeria in Sweden, what is your appeal to the state government?
The state government should understand that Lobi stars is not a sport. Sports include other events like handball, volleyball, basketball, hockey, badminton and a host of others. I am, therefore, appealing to the Benue State government not to kill the dreams of these young handball players. We need government support to attend the invitational championship in Sweden. In Lagos, many states brought millions to chase this ticket but couldn’t get it.
What is the reason behind your passion for handball?
The discipline in the sport and achievements of handball players of Benue State origin like Ashongu, Michael Taangahar, Ekele, Ujege, Rose Apine and a host of others have continued to inspire me. I like other sports but handball is my number one sport.