Mohammed Ali, a personal
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..
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
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.
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
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
I thought it very odd when I learned
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
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?
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.
turned out, my
visit to the stadium was not going to be quixotic at
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.
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
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
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.
comments about the maturity age in Ghana and why
civil servants should retire at age sixty.
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
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.
them to get ready. I am coming.
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
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
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.
Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher www.ghanadot.com,
Washington, DC, June 05, 2016.
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