SWAL’s Humble Beginning

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L-R Momolu Sirleaf, Omari Jackson and_web.jpg

The four young men gathered at the news office of the erstwhile DAILY STAR newspaper on the corner of Broad and Gurley Street and regarded each other till one of them broke the silence.

“We need to get this organization together,” Mozart M. Dennis, one of the leading photo-journalists said. “If we are together, we can make a lot of difference.” The others, including James Burgess Carter and Bana Sackie and this writer laughed.

The necessity to organize a sports writers’ association had come to the fore against the backdrop where sports journalists were refused entry at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium at the time when local sports reigned supreme. A couple of times, gate-keepers had insisted sports writers would not be allowed to enter the stadium if they did not purchase tickets for matches there. Though it was not officially sanctioned by the Liberia Football Association, someone had to be made aware of what the gate-keepers were demanding.

“This is a shame,” another journalist in attendance said. At the conclusion of the meeting, it was agreed that such an organization was necessary. At the time, Mr. Willis D. Knuckles was the vice chairman of the Liberia Football Association and President Doe was its chairman.

The year was 1986.

It was a period of remarkable changes to the development of football in Liberia. Until then, football organization had been done on short term basis. Hit with an apparent lack of vision, football authorities did not organize regular long term football programs. However, whenever tournaments were organized by the Confederation of African Football, Liberia would go ahead to nominate either Invincible Eleven or Mighty Barrolle for the Club Championships.

But with the coming of President Samuel Kanyon (in the 1980s); the completion of the Complex named after him, began under the administration of President William R. Tolbert, soccer took off significantly.

Now with Knuckles in charge as vice chairman, youth football got a boost, (thanks to Assa Mady Kabba and the late La-Marks Kerdoe) and with the support of sports writers and broadcasters, history was set to happen.

The first known sports writer who got a great deal of attention was the late Zack Humphrey who had worked for the NEW LIBERIA and THE LIBERIAN AGE newspapers in the 1970s and late 1980s.

Then of course the late editor of the DAILY OBSERVER T-Max Teah and the late Klon Hinneh of the former FOOTPRINTS TODAY newspaper who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mattor Harris with was the NEW LIBERIA then. But it was in 1985 that the idea to organize an organization for sports writers gained full attention as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Other important sports writers included the Mr. Fred Smith and James Burgess Carter, presently with the DAILY OBSERVER newspaper.

On the radio side was the late Herbert Grigsby, one of Liberia’s most respected broadcasters, (whose memory SWAL monthly lecture series were named), the late Garswa Yarmeto another sportscaster of great talent, Mr. Patrick Manjoe and Mr. Cyrus Wleh Badio then with the ELBC. The late Joe Mulbah, a sportscaster at the ELWA and later DAILY OBSERVER and SPORTS WORLD made significant contribution to SWAL’s formation.

This writer, who was part of the discussion to organize the organization, began his career with the former DAILY STAR; later joined the DAILY OBSERVER in 1987 became its first secretary general. The late James Caesar Padmore, who worked for the ELCM Community Radio (now RADIO VERITAS) became the first president of the association.

Mr. Dennis Toe of the then FOOTPRINTS TODAY, Rodney Sieh who worked with MONROVIA DAILY NEWS and later Mr. John Taweh, who won the presidency to replace Mr. Padmore subsequently brought in secretary general Mr. Akosa Ike, who came along with several individuals, including Henry K. Bestman, Emmanuel K. Cooper, (from the SPORTS CHRONICLE newspaper, owned by the late Mohammed Winpea.)

Mr. Bana Sackie became editor of the first sports newspaper to emerge at the period, THE SPORTING LIFE, owned by the late Walter Pelham, who also coached the national team and later it became SPORTS LIFE, E. Sagbe Byrd (SPORTS LIFE) and Momolu Sirleaf (THE MIRROR, and SPORTS STAR) as well as Jackson Kanneh (DAILY OBSERVER and later Voice of America).

Interestingly, at the beginning the late Garswa Yarmeto was made its first interim chairman but after several days later when another crisis came between sports journalists and the Liberia Football Association (LFA), he sided with the LFA, and as a result the membership saw that he was the wrong man to defend their interest. At an emergency meeting, an election was held and Mr. Padmore took over as president.

Though Willis Knuckles’ Liberia Football Association realized the seriousness of sports journalists, it did not issue any support to recognize the infant association; however, the LFA supported the association and ensured that from that humble beginning they would work together. The cordial relationship continued after Mr. Cletus S. Wotorson took over from Mr. Knuckles.

The period from 1986 to 1989 was a busy period for Liberian soccer. President Doe did not hide his love for the game and subsequently went all the way to make sure that the players on the national team got what they needed. A trip to Brazil was one of the incentives.

It was therefore no surprise that after the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (SCSA) Zone 111 finals held in Liberia that Ghana won Liberia 1-0 in the finals, it proved that Liberia had come of age, along with sports journalists.

It was a message that Africa should watch out for Liberia and Lone Star’s subsequent participation the World Cup qualifying series did not leave Africa in doubt. It was the era that groomed the George Weah X1.

Meanwhile, after he resigned from office, Mr. Knuckles and Ambassador Eddie Dunn organized the SPORTS WORLD newspaper with Mr. Joe Mulbah as its editor, along with reporters Eugene Lenn Nagbe, Hassan Kiawu, (who later went to the ELBC), Gabriel da Costa and with Mozart Dennis to boost sport writing.

The primary objective was and it is still to promote Liberian athletes and develop sports writers by seeking educational support to the members.

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