Gbarnga City, Bong County, was the center of attraction over the weekend when five high schools stormed the Tubman Gray Sports Gymnasium in the 2018 edition of the Harold Emmett McGowan Upcountry Basketball Tournament.
This year’s competition, celebrated under the theme “Providing Equal Opportunity through Sports”, was graced by its honoree, Mr. McGowan, founder of the tournament in the 1970s, and his wife Affua Ajavon, both of the United States of America. Five high schools featured in the thrilling competition.
Host Tubman Gray and St. Martin represented Bong County while Zorzor Central High and Lutheran Training Institute traveled from far away Lofa County. And C.H. Dewey High School came from Bomi County.
The game, designed in round robin fixtures, commenced on Friday, November 10, attracting the attention of many, especially young people who trooped at the venue to catch a glimpse of the happenings.
In the day’s first match, Tubman Gray took a 20 – 1 point lead to beat Lutheran Training Institute at the jammed packed gymnasium.
Ganta United Methodist forfeited to Zorzor Central High due to an eleventh hour withdrawal from the competition.
St. Martin Catholic High School demolished Zorzor Central High 46 – 11 points, while C.H Dewey pulled out of her 2nd match against Tubman – Gray in the dying minutes of their game after trailing at 30 – 32points on claims of being cheated.
In the semi final fixtures, Tubman Gray won Zorzor Central High 41 – 38 points to advance to the grand finale while St. Martin, in its quest for the championship, demolished Lutheran Training Institute 60 – 20 points to reach the final, making it an all Bong County affair.
Lutheran Training Institute narrowly pinned their neighbor, Zorzor Central High 22 – 20 points to win 3rd place.
In the grand final, St. Martin came from a 4-0 deficit to put up a surprising 26 – 24 points victory against host Tubman Gray at the reenergized gymnasium.
T-Gray failed to continue their lead due to lack of coordination, coupled with failure to make use of their free throws, a situation their opponent took advantage of to frustrate them in its own backyard.
The win marked St. Martins’ fourth championship after winning the crown of the tourney in 1987, 1988, 2012 and 2018. Again, Tubman Gray failed to boost its record of the tournament, since she won it once in 1985.
Meanwhile, Samson Jallah of St. Martin was decorated as the Most Valuable Player Award while Alvin Dogba of T-Gray won the most talented award. Zorzor High’s William J. Kollie got the highest rebound award to climax all of the Harold McGowan Upcountry basketball festival in Central Liberia.
In two exhibition matches, which aimed added flavor to the event, Paynesville Old Timers from Monrovia beat Bong Shooters of Bong County 22-18points, while Tubman Gray girls beat the girls of St. Martin 4-0.
Previously known as Upcountry Basketball Tournament, the annual festival, initiated in the early 1970’s by Harold Emmett McGowan was to help promote the game among high schools of the central region, which then comprised Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties. It was renamed in 2012, in honor of the founder.
Serving earlier as keynote speaker, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister for Administration, Audrin Smith – Forbes congratulated Mr. McGowan for his innovation and services to Liberia when the country needed him most.
Mrs. Smith – Forbes added that the honoree’s combination of sports and education in promoting academic excellence and character is a model that has made significant impact in the lives of many..
She asserted that it is in this vein that the CDC-led Government will continue to support the tournament, in order to provide positive incentives for the youthful community and build character, leadership and health amongst the youth of Liberia.
Presenting the awards to the athletes, McGowan, the former American Peace Corps and basketball coach, expressed joy over the good sportsmanship exhibited during the course of the tournament.
Mr. McGowan also thanked the schools, players, technical staff and especially the Ministry of Youth and Sports for the manner in which the event has grown over the years.
He also challenged the athletes to continue using the sport to excel and become more disciplined and productive for the betterment of the Liberian society.
In a related development, Deputy Minister for Sports Development, G. Andy Quamie thanked the American embassy, the participating schools’ administrators and their students for making this year’s event a massive success.
Deputy Minister Quamie emphasized that the overwhelming turn out at the games is a demonstration that young people are willing to take advantage of the opportunity to excel, which he said has motivated his staff to ensure that the event becomes better every year.
For his part, the Chairman of the tournament, Kessellee Kanneh praised the various schools for their “exceptional performances”.
Mr. Kanneh wants the participants to continue using the event to promote academic excellence and discipline in their various schools, if they are to become productive citizens.