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Mohammed Ali at Labone
With Ms. Evelyn Sackey





Mohammed Ali, a personal note remembered
E. Ablorh-Odjidja
June 05, 2016

 Mohammed Ali visited Ghana in 1964, after gaining the World Heavyweight Championship title. I was then an Upper Sixth student at Labone Secondary School. He was gracious enough to visit the school, after my persuasion..

Labone had gone on a serious school strike three years before Ali's visit, a student strike that gained the school some notoriety in the local papers.


On top of that notoriety, Labone was a highly athletic school in all fields of sports in the early 60s.

Coincidentally, I came to Sixth Form a year after the strike.  Ali's visit was at the time of my final year.

The headmaster, Mr. Lomo Jones, had suspected earlier that my youthful exuberances at the time could be made useful as  enforcer for discipline. So. I was installed Prefect of Assemblies & Entertainment.
Putting a fox in a chicken-coop to ensure the safety of the chicken, others thought, was just as useful an idea.

But it worked.   The appointment was a happenstance that suited my nature very well. I would end up working in the media as a professional.

Labone Secondary School was a vibrant community of boys and girls at that time. And we excelled in many fields at sports. Netball (basket ball for girls), track and field and soccer. For two years in a roll we had dominated athleticism in the country.

It was in the midst of such victories that Mohammed Ali visited Ghana. Unfortunately, Labone was not on the protocol list of the selected schools to be visited by him.

I thought it very odd when I learned of the news. And it filled me with a sense of outrage (the journalistic kind). I was appalled by the unfairness of the planned program.

The world's most celebrated sports figure on a visit to Ghana and he would not visit the top athletic school in the country, I asked the Sports Master of the school at the time, Mr Odae. And with him, we went straight to see  the Headmaster, Mr. Lomo Jones.

My question to both of them at the Headmaster's office was, politely of course, how could a sport personality like Ali visit schools in Ghana and Labone not be on that list?

Both the Headmaster and the Sports Master claimed vaguely that the arrangements were made at the offices of the Center of Organization for Sports (COS). Mr. Ohene Djan was the boss.  And he also had a lot of political clout in the country in those days, which these two old teachers could not or, perhaps, were afraid to challenge.

The Headmaster, to probably teach me how quixotic my question and intent were, sent me with the school truck and driver to go talk to Mr. Ohene Djan  at the Accra Sports Stadium complex, where COS was headquartered.

As it turned out, my visit to the stadium was not going to be quixotic at all.

I was ushered to Mr. Ohene Djan's office, in my khaki shorts, sandals and a light blue school shirt. I had announced myself as a delegation of one from Labone. Would Mr. Djan remember that we took the soccer trophy last year?

Of course, Mr. Djan knew the value of sports for schools. Except his people didn't think we were part of the legacy schools that foreign dignitaries visited perfunctorily when in the country.

He also was sympathetic to my question: How could a sports icon like Ali not visit Labone, the top athletic school? The symbolism of Ali's presence and the significance of it all was obvious to Mr. Ohene Djan.

Could I address the same question to Mohammed Ali when given the chance? Perhaps he could force, on his own, a change in the itenirary that others had planned for him, Mr. Ohene Djan asked..

I thought timidly that I had come to just ask a question. Not make an argument in the interest of changing the nature of a personality and giant like Mohammed Ali.
And Ali was a giant.  Only 22 years old and about a year older than I was at the time but he was on top of the world.

Please, no comments about the maturity age in Ghana and why civil servants should retire at age sixty.

True enough, Mr. Ohene Djan brought me, school uniform and all, to the Sports Hall to meet the “Greatest.”  He was going to hold an exhibition with some of our local amateur boxers.

Ali arrived on time and I was brought by Ohene Djan to his presence.

What I saw, I mean the personality, didn't strike me as that of a prize fighter. Mr Ohene Djan's face looked more pugilistic than that of Ali, The Greatest.

He was a light skinned young black man with a cherubic face and a set of perfect front teeth that looked like it never (ever) tasted the rubber of a mouthpiece. But there he was, working the lips. He was Mohammed Ali, loquacious and almost daring in his public appeal; like a cheerleader.

Then I delivered my question. Why was The Greatest not coming to see us at Labone, after all we were the top athletic school?

Ali was just spontaneous with his response.

I didn't know what had gone on in his mind, or what he had been told, before I showed up.
But did he  know about Labone before he left the U.S or his response was a matter decided by instinct?  The counter-puncher's move to an uppercut blow that failed to land?  Or was it a style just born out of the many feints of the head from  dangerous jabs at the gym?
Whatever, Ali looked very self-assured in his response. He was not the kind for whom you dictated an itenirary. He was a decider.

How far was Labone from the stadium?

About a matter of 30 minutes drive time, was my response.

Tell them to get ready. I am coming.

Just that simple.

It had been barely two hours ago that morning when I had my first talk with the headmaster and now I was back at the school telling him that Ali was coming!

Whether Mr. Jones believed me or not, I wouldn't know but he left everything in my hand to arrange. To call the school to assemble and tell them Ali was coming, Mr. Jones said.

Mohammed Ali did arrive shortly after, to cheers and screams of pleasure from the young men and women at Labone at the time.

There was a picture taken that day of Mohammed Ali and a young lady student, the late Ms. Sharon Evelyn Sackey. If the word “archives” had any meaning, Labone Secondary School should have on record some pictures of Ali's visit to the school in 1964.

For my part, I kept the memory.  It told me something about myself, my country and my world at a young age, even if it was of the personal kind.  I got the opportunity to persuade the man who shook the world.
The greatest. Thanks .......

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, June 05, 2016.
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to publisher@ghanadot.com . Or don't publish at all.




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