Today, I am proud to share my conversation with the current World Scrabble Champion, Wellington Jighere. Speaking to the very humble wellington was even more humbling for me.
Read below and be inspired:
Elsie: Who Is Wellington Jighere in your own words?
Wellington Jighere: My name is Wellington Jighere, the current world scrabble champion. I am from Delta state Nigeria and I graduated from University of Benin.
Elsie: How did playing Scrabble start?
Wellington Jighere: My elder brother taught me the game in 1996. I played a little at home and more in our area back then. It wasn’t until 2002 that I participated in my first tournament, then I got better and better at it.
Elsie: Was it a plan to become a scrabble player or it just happened?
Wellington Jighere: It just happened, there wasn’t a conscious plan. It was more like a way of making ends meets while I was in school.
Elsie: How profitable is playing scrabble?
Wellington Jighere: Its quite profitable when you put into consideration tournament wins and all that but if you are good at it. That is how every trade in life is generally even your blogging. So its quite profitable.
Elsie: Looking at it from a lay man’s view, we see scrabble as just a game people pick up to play for leisure. Quite a few know there is a tournament or that you can even be a world champion. So how does it work?
Wellington Jighere: Actually, the scrabble terrain in Nigeria is pretty well organized. it just that we do not have much publicity like the other sports have.
Elsie: Like football?
Wellington Jighere: Football is more like a super sport. When i mentioned other sports, i wasn’t even talking football but then football is like the guru of all sporting activities. Being that as it may, that we are not as popular as every other sports, we are pretty much organised. There are national tournaments every now and then. There are continental championships, there is the African scrabble championship that takes place every 2years, there is the world championship that takes place every other two years. Like this year is an African championship year. Sooner or later you will start hearing about qualification processes for the African championship, one tournament in one part of the country or another, etc. so we actually do a lot of traveling.
Elsie: Is it a club/group thing or individuals just apply?
Wellington Jighere: Its an individual thing but there is rating system. As you do better and better your rating improves.
Elsie: Does the board keep tabs of the rates?
Wellington Jighere: Yes. There is a Nigerian Scrabble Federation under the sports commission that is empowered with managing scrabble, organising tournaments and overseeing tournaments in the country. They are the ones that organises specifications for national tournament. They manage the rating system.
Elsie: A person has to register with that body?
Wellington Jighere: Yes, there is an annual licensing that takes place at the beginning of every year. But as a new comer you don’t necessarily have to be licensed, i think you can have a waver for first few tournaments you go to. As you get more interested in playing regularly, you are going to have to register.
Elsie: How does it feel to be the first black, first African and first Nigerian to win the tournament?
Wellington Jighere: It felt good especially considering that 90% of my opponents were whites and prior to this time they have consistently ruled the game. Prior to my debut in 2007, we generally had the concession that the game belongs to them and there is probably little we can do to compete favorably with them but as time went on, in 2007 I finished 3rd and that was my first time there. Then I felt if I could get that far, then if we put our heads there we can win. The moment when i realised i could actually be king of the game was in 2007. But basically it feels very good to finally have achieved that couple of years after 2007.
Elsie: Scrabble has to do with word. So please share how you keep up with your vocabulary ?
Wellington Jighere: It entails a lot of study. Scrabble is based on the English vocabulary. What we do is, for competitive purposes, we adopt the dictionary that has the highest authority in the English Language. Right now that dictionary happens to be the Collins Dictionary and we just had a 2015 edition that came up last year.
Elsie: So you have to keep up with every edition?
Wellington Jighere: Yes you have to. Editions come out every 3 or 5 years.
Elsie: So you know every word in that dictionary?
Wellington Jighere: Not necessarily 100% but i know 98% of it.
Elsie: Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! I do have a long way to go then. So what inspire you? What keeps you going? Because from 2007 to 2015, what kept pushing you?
Wellington Jighere: There have been a lot of setbacks but that is only natural in any field of human endeavor. Most important thing is to find a way of surmounting such setback and thrive. I can’t deny the fact that there was a time I decided to let go of it all and maybe do something else with my time. But what brought me back was that I figured I have invested too much into this. If there was one thing I could be called a professional at, it will be playing scrabble, so to just throw all that away didn’t make much sense. I actually stopped playing for about 3years between 2010/2011 – 2013 but I had to come back.
Elsie: So it took you a year and few months to come back and be the champion?
Wellington Jighere: Yes, I had to come back. I invested too much into it, especially in time past, it affected my education. Even the grade I graduated with was affected. There was pretty little I know that much about. I just had to come back.
Elsie: You have beaten the world, so what is next for Wellington?
Wellington Jighere: After beating the world, i think what is next is showing others how to be world beaters. Not just in scrabble but in their respective fields. Generally people needs to know what it is to be at the top of whatever they pour their energies into and people need to know that they need to have a realistic view of the amount of work its going to take them and what is required of them. Nigerians are very religious people. I am not saying I am not religious but then you have to find a balance. Sometimes we depend too much on the luck factor in things to actually put in the amount of work that is required to get to the top of whatever it is we are doing. We also just set up The Wellington Foundation for Scrabble and Mind development. We are based in Abuja for the time being but our scope of operation is going to spread beyond the country and all over the continent, finally globally itself. Basically, our core mandate is to use such instrumental in scrabble towards mental capacity building. The focus is to empower our young intellects out there such that they can probably have what it it takes, be equipped with the necessary wherewithal to thrive at whatever it is that they choose. But the few that will want to make a career out of scrabble, we will be there to nudge them in the right path and probably help them take over from this generation of ours when we finally decide to stop playing scrabble.
Elsie: How can people reach the foundation? Is it open to some people or anyone that is interested in playing scrabble?
Wellington Jighere: Basically, we are working towards our launch. Within the next couple of month we will be able to determine that. And it will definitely be open for everybody to participate in our activities. Our major target are the young ones; those in our secondary schools and the tertiary institutions. The idea is to keep them meaningfully engaged in something that keeps their mental faculties occupied in a positive light such that you don’t get to have time for other unprofitable vices.
Elsie: Whats your advice to Elsians and young people out there?
Wellington Jighere: My advice to anyone reading this is to put in their best to whatever it is that they do, believing that if they do that, they will definitely get to the top of whatever they do. I cannot tell you that it is easy getting to the top of whatever you do and the time frame usually varies from one endeavor to the other but generally, the way I would like to see such efforts and the realisation of your dream is; I believe in having a dream, putting in the best that you can. Do not give yourself a time frame, all you need to do is survive until that dream comes true.
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