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Scrabble can address poor reading culture, poverty

Mr Chinedu Thorpe (formerly known as Chinedu Okwelogu) is a household name in the scrabble world. Sidespin, as he’s fondly called in the world of Table Tennis and Scrabble, has been a scrabble player, trainer, coach and promoter. In this interview with OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU, he reels out his plans to uplift scrabble from family to state, national and international levels.
Who is Thorpe
My name is Chinedu Thorpe. My surname was formerly Okwelogu, while my nickname is Sidespin. I am from Okija, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra state. Currently, I am an Assistant Director at the National Orientation Agency (NOA). I read English and Literary Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers state.
I became a Table Tennis player in 1974. Ten years later (in 1983), I decided to focus on Scrabble as a Player. But table tennis remains my number one love sports to date. If I have the money, I will sponsor table tennis to any level.
I joined the national scrabble body by virtue of playing with nationally rated players in 1987 at Enugu. I played at the national tournament first in 1991, and became the national champion in 1994 when I won the national open for Kano in October. In 2001 and 2002, I became Nigeria number one and Nigerian highest ranked scrabble player in the world. I was the world number 8 in 2001 and number 10 in 2002.
I have won a range of tournaments. I am a multiple champion by any definition of the terms, Nationally or Internationally. I won my first world international event in 2012. I became Kano state coach in 2003. My concern now is training of players, organising competitions, playing, etc.
How is scrabble fairing in Nigeria?
Scrabble is the number one sports that has given Nigeria number one ranking in the world. Unfortunately, many are not aware of that. The ranking is based on cumulative of all performances. Ironically, it is very neglected in the country.
What is the place of scrabble in the South East geopolitical one and Anambra state, specifically?
To start with, the problem we have in the south east is non-availability of high level players. We have them but they based outside the south east. The first Igbo man to win scrabble national champion was Chijioke Uzoh from Imo state in 1987. After that, he moved to US and remains there. The second was Azubuike Ogbogu in 1989. He is from Asaba Delta state (Technically not in South east). He was based in Benin, playing for Edo and Delta states.
The third Igbo man was Ifeanyi Onyeonwu, from Ogbunike, Anambra state. He won in 1990. And was the first scrabble player to win the African championship in 1994. He was also Nigerian number one for a long time. He based in Benin and plays with Auzbuike. They were called the Benin Maffians.
I was the fourth National Champions (and second from Anambra state). I won in 1994 while playing for Kano state.
So, there were no national champion based in South East to ginger people. But people were playing all over the country. There are scrabble clubs all over the country attached to the national team. Those existing in the South East were at Aba (Abia state), Enugu (Enugu state) and Alvan Ikoku (Owerri State). It was when I came down from north to Anambra state (on transfer) in 2012, I started a fresh move to reposition scrabble in the state.
But before then in 2009, the then Secretary of Scrabble in Anambra state, Nestor Ikwueze contacted me to train the state players for 2009 National Sports festival in Kaduna. It was about two weeks to the national sports festival at Kaduna. And I was training the Kano players too. I couldn’t go because I was also expecting arrival of scrabble equipment which I was to receive personally at Aminu Kano international Airport. I recommended two of my friends and experts from Delta State to the state. Delta is the number one scrabble playing state in Nigeria. They trained the Anambra players and they joined us at the event.
Anambra state did not win medal. But one of the players, Master Chuka Amafor was adjudged the best or most promising scrabble player of the year. The national body mandated me to train him so that he would play at the world Scrabble champions at Australia.
I wrote to the Anambra state government, requesting sponsorship of Amafor because his trip was meant to be sponsored by the state. However, that letter was not replied to date. It was one Yoruba speaking state that later sent in someone, Seun Oyeleke for Amafor’s replacement. Seun trained with us at the camp, and at the world scrabble competition, he came sixth in the whole world. That was how Anambra missed that opportunity. Amafor lost interest on scrabble since then…
I am back to reposition scrabble in the state. I am ever ready and most positioned especially now the national had lifted my suspension. The suspension began on 2011 over disagreement I had with some of their officers. It was lifted in 2019. So, I and my teams are going to Edo 2020 (2021) National Sports Festival to make Anambra state and Nigeria proud. 
Have you made any attempt to get the incumbent administration in Anambra state to sponsor any scrabble activity?
Yes! I must apologise to governor Willie Obiano, his wife—Ebelechukwu Obiano, and the Commissioner for Basic Education (formerly Commissioner for Education), Prof. Azuka Omenugha. I must appologise to the entire Anambra. In 2015, I approached the state government for sponsorship of secondary school scrabble tournament. This is a project of about six million naira. The project was approved even when the governor did not know me. However, a former commissioner for youth and sports and few others insisted that I should not be allowed to handle the project. They said they have other capable hands in the ministry to handle it. I was called unprintable names… So, I left them and the project. It was not executed. I don't know what happened to the fund to date because I was not interested on the money. When I realised my mistakes, I quickly appologised to the governor, his wife and the commissioner. I have written another proposal to them. I have also introduced Mr Chuks Ndigwe and Mr Odionye to them who I am sure can handle the project perfectly even I am not involved. But nothing will make me to abandon the project.
Why is scrabble seemed neglected in Nigeria?
People have not seen the connecting point. For any activity to be valuable in the present world, it has to be motivating. It must have relevant in putting food on the table of whoever is involve in it. The project needs money to be executed perfectly.
There is something I called ‘the tournament scrabble industry.’ It is a sequence of activities in which people who are involved in the scrabble would be adequately rewarded. In this industry, I would highlight five different individuals or key players. They are the Scrabble player, scrabble coach or teacher, scrabble organiser, middleman and sponsor.
Under this your plan, how could scrabble address crimes and other societal challenges?
I have device several types of scrabble tournament from family level to house to house (neighbour), schools, town, LGA, state and national levels. All that is required is sponsorship through a middle man. Middle man is expected to bring sponsors and collect commission. He did not need to know what scrabble is all about. The sponsor is not obliged to dish out all the money requested. He is fee to provide what he can afford. The most important thing is to put down something people can fight (play) for. If for example, a sponsor provides for a year scrabble event in Awka metropolis. We can decide to make it a monthly event. If for instance N10million is required and the sponsor brings out N2million, we can still use it to achieve maximum result. Once the tournament is announced, people would begin to study harder to win the prize. This will create employments at all levels. For the one I designed for schools, everyone must win prizes. The school has prize, so also are the teachers, players and so on.
When you look at the crimes been committed in the society, you will find out that it is because most of those involved are out of job, unsatisfactory employed, under the influence of drugs or association with wrong kinds of persons. Fighting it should not be reacting to crime when it happens. Scrabble should be used to engage the minds of people.
Meaning scrabble can equally be used in addressing poor reading cultures?
Scrabble is the number sports that can significantly address the poor reading culture and other academics challenges in Nigeria. It compels practitioners to go back to schools. It motivates and inspires players to revisit their books, to cultivate a studying habit. If you want to do good in scrabble, you must study hard to increase vocabulary. It is 70% mathematics and 30% linguistics. Let us assume money is at stake, you must study hard to win the prize. There are specified books and dictionaries you are to study. The vehicle is wording, while the underlined point is mathematical. That is why it is said to be more mathematics than English. If you’re sharp, you will become sharper. If you’re dullard, you will become sharp.
Are there countries that have used scrabble to address societal challenges like crimes you know?
Pakistan used it to fight terrorism by occupying the minds of children, thereby preventing them from being recruited for crimes. Malaysia used it to produce intellectual wizards and so on. There are other people and countries using it to address one issue or another.
Is there particular age bracket meant to play scrabble?
The scrabble is for people of all ages. But the ideal age for one to begin playing scrabble is 8 years old because that is when one is assumed to have developed their cognitive reasoning. Scrabble enhances mental development, prevents development of dementia, a disease of old age. And you can play it up to 80-year-old or more.
Don’t you think that high cost of scrabble equipment is why it receives poor attention?
The equipment elements used to be a challenge. But it is no longer a challenge. All the materials are now available on Google App and others. All you need is an Android phone. You can download the dictionary, clock, and others. There is also an online board. It is during the tournament you will be required to purchase a board. The standard practise is for one to use own equipment during tournament. The prices for standard board may range from N50,000 to N200,000. But anybody that is serious can buy that of paper board. There are others within N15,000 or N18,000. The equipment is very affordable.
Do you subscribe to the notion that scrabble should be made a curricular subject?
Yes.  It could be made a curricular subject. It is workable. But I would advice that students should not be compelled to study or play it. Schools should not also be compelled to register it. It should be optional. What should be done is that schools and students that engage on it should be adequately rewarded.

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