Uncle Ted Roberts Tribute

Posted June 9th, 2013 at 5:49 pm (UTC-4)

Uncle Ted & Sonny

A Retirement Celebration was held June 8, 2013, for my friend, mentor and former Voice of America colleague “Uncle” Ted Roberts, who recently stepped down after 42 years of teaching at Howard University here in Washington, D.C. The following is my tribute speech at the ceremony:

“Is everything okay? Is everything alright? I hope so!” This was one of the signature on-air phrases of my friend and longtime Voice of America colleague, “Uncle” Ted Roberts.  Two short questions, followed by a short, three word sentence:  “I hope so!” The key word for me is that middle one: “hope.”

Uncle Ted’s “Radio Cake” at his Retirement Celebration

Whether he was working with young students at Howard, or working with young VOA interns in our office, Uncle Ted was, and is, very much about hope.

One of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, came out almost 20 years ago.  And one of my favorite scenes comes near the end of the film.

The character Red reads a letter from his friend and former prison buddy Andy, who writes, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things – and no good thing ever dies.”

Uncle Ted inspired hope not just in his students and in his colleagues, but also in the millions of VOA listeners who tuned in to his popular Nightline Africa radio broadcast on the weekend.  This show, with Uncle Ted behind the microphone, was very much about hope, and it was very much a communal experience.

Ted founded his Nightline Family, a Nightline Africa fan club with thousands of registered members and chapters all over Africa and the Caribbean.

There was an entertainment aspect to the program – Uncle Ted would give riddles and play oldies music: “a blast from my past … music among my souvenirs” is how he described it.

But there was also a hopeful, compassionate, humanitarian element to the show.  When I look back on Uncle Ted’s broadcasting career at the Voice of America, I think one of his greatest legacies was creating an award-winning program called Missing Link.  Ted was the Main Link in Missing Link– the conduit who brought together African families separated by war, political upheaval or natural disaster.  Ted read letters and recorded messages from refugees, who asked for help in locating their loved ones, and he’s credited with reuniting hundreds of families.

Uncle Ted, Liberian soccer great George Weah and Sonny in VOA studio in 2004.

Ted’s empathy and generosity was seen on an international scale through programs like this, but also on a smaller scale in our office.  I remember Uncle Ted always bringing in food for his colleagues, like doughnuts, chicken and Chinese food.  Uncle Ted also kept a big candy jar at his desk – he caught my hand in it a few times!

And just as I took candy from Ted’s jar, I also took sweet nuggets of his style, delivery and programs for use on my own show.  Remember, sports fans, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

One of Ted’s many Nightline Africa radio friends, Ateka, wrote the following after hearing of his retirement from VOA in 2009:  “Just like other members of the Nightline Family, I love Uncle Ted so much.  It was his baritone voice, his professionalism, his warm sense of humor and passion for his work that kept me and other members of his Nightline Family hooked to the radio whenever he was on the air.  Then, whenever he signed off, Ted always had a quote that inspired us.”

When you sign off by inspiring someone, you leave them with hope.  And so, Uncle Ted, thank you for the inspiration, and thank you for the hope.


Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Robbie Russell Goes From Pro Soccer to Medical School

Posted June 5th, 2013 at 3:10 pm (UTC-4)
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Robbie and Sonny
Photo: Roblyn Hymes/VOA

Ghana-born Robbie Russell says he greatly enjoyed his recent visit to our Voice of America headquarters.

The 33-year-old Russell, who announced his retirement from pro soccer last month, brought with him several of the club jerseys he wore proudly all over the world.

Russell played as a defender for clubs in Iceland, Norway and Denmark, as well as in the United States, where he suited up for Real Salt Lake and D.C. United in Major League Soccer.

“I am so happy for what I was given,” says Russell, looking back on his 12-year professional career, “and so happy for what I

Robbie Russell celebrates his winning kick in the 2009 MLS championship match in Seattle, Washington.
Photo: AP


One of his biggest accomplishments was lifting the MLS Cup trophy in 2009, when he scored the game-winning penalty kick for Real Salt Lake against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Robbie celebrates a win over the Columbus Crew after a MLS match.
Photo: AP

“I still have goose bumps on my arms,” says Russell, reflecting on the kick that gave Real Salt Lake its first and only MLS championship.

Robbie now has his sights set on professional accomplishments off the pitch.

He began classes this week in Georgetown University’s Post-baccalaureate Pre-Medical Certificate Program.

Russell talked with me about the 18-month program, which leads to medical school, in this video interview.

In the interview, Robbie Russell says there’s a lot of hope surrounding Major League Soccer, which was founded in 1993 as part of the USA’s successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup.

Russell adds he hasn’t ruled out returning to MLS as a doctor. “If there was any way I could come back and rejoin the game, I think that would be amazing,” says Robbie. “But there’s a long time between now and then (becoming a M.D.). And so I’m going to take it one step at a time. But anything I could ever give back to this game would be fantastic.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Tony Parker and Spurs Return to NBA Finals

Posted May 28th, 2013 at 2:32 pm (UTC-4)

Tony Parker
Photo: AP

French star Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs are returning to the National Basketball Association Finals for the first time since they last lifted the trophy in 2007. Led by Parker, the Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies in four consecutive games to reach the championship round.

The 31-year-old Parker was outstanding against the Grizzlies, averaging 24.5 points and 9.5 assists in the four victories. He capped it in Game

Tony Parker puts up a shot against the Grizzlies
Photo: AP

Four in Memphis with his best performance of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, making 15 of 21 shots from the field, all six at the free throw line and scoring 37 points in San Antonio’s 93-86 victory.

“He’s been amazing,” said San Antonio’s veteran star Tim Duncan. “Every year he gets better and better and better. He’s been carrying us.”

The 37-year-old Duncan, winding down a Hall of Fame career, has also been a solid contributor to San Antonio’s postseason success, averaging 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game during the playoffs.

Tony Parker drives to the basket
Photo: AP

“Last year, I promised to him (Tim Duncan) that we will go back to the NBA Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing,” says Parker. “I’m trying to do my best … we don’t know who we’re going to play yet, but we know it’s going to be tough.”

The Spurs will play the winner of the series between the Indiana Pacers and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

The NBA Finals will tip off June 6, and Parker says the Spurs will enjoy the time off before the championship round. “It’s going to be great to rest. I know Timmy (Duncan) and Manu (Ginobili) are going to love the rest,” says Parker. “We’re going to regenerate and get ready for whoever we’re going to play.”

Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have been the key players in San Antonio’s NBA success, which has spanned more than a decade. Duncan is a four-time NBA champion, while Parker and Ginobili have won three NBA titles.

“It just shows the character of those three guys and their ability to play with whoever else is brought in around them,” says Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “They deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Deng Hopes to Rebound After Spinal Tap Scare

Posted May 16th, 2013 at 5:06 pm (UTC-4)

Luol Deng
Photo: AP

It’s been perhaps the most difficult period of Luol Deng’s professional basketball career, but the two-time NBA All-Star for the Chicago Bulls is confident of bouncing back from illness after a spinal tap.

Writing on Twitter Thursday, Deng said, “I’m getting better each day. I want to thank the fans for the great support this year, but more importantly I really appreciate all the concern and support about my health.”

The 28-year-old Deng was hospitalized about two weeks ago and he underwent a spinal tap for viral meningitis. The procedure came back negative, but caused complications forcing further hospitalization.

Luol Deng dunks during first-round NBA playoff series last month against the Brooklyn Nets
Photo: AP

“As a result of the spinal tap,” said Deng, “I suffered the worst headache I ever experienced and was the weakest I ever felt.”

Weak, groggy and disoriented, the South Sudan-born star held out hope that he might recover and play against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat in a playoff series. But he missed all five games and Miami advanced, 4-1.

Luol Deng is looking forward to a healthier 2013-2014 season

Two other top players on the Bulls, guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, also missed the series because of injuries. Like Luol Deng, they’re now looking ahead to next season.

Chicago forward Carlos Boozer, who had a game-high 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 5 against Miami, is keeping his fingers crossed: “If we’re healthy next season, we’re going to be pretty good.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Sporty Bobbleheads Boost Cubicle Spirit at VOA

Posted May 8th, 2013 at 1:48 pm (UTC-4)

Andy Najar Bobblehead

My Voice of America colleague Nancy Coviello brought her Andy Najar bobblehead to her new cubicle in our office.

As you can see, the Honduran footballer Najar is wearing the uniform of D.C. United, his former Major League Soccer club based here in Washington.

D.C. United recently finalized a multimillion dollar deal with the club Anderlecht in Belgium, where the 20-year-old Najar is now based.

John Wall Bobblehead

While transfers in international football often involve millions of dollars, you can get cheap deals on bobbleheads.

My VOA buddy Terry Daniels gave me this John Wall bobblehead, a freebie for the fans during “John Wall Bobblehead Night” at a Washington Wizards National Basketball Association game.

Coach Jeff Jones Bobblehead

At the collegiate level, Terry and I also went to an American University basketball game. As luck would have it, it was “Coach Jeff Jones Bobblehead Night.”

Like Andy Najar, Coach Jones has since moved on. Last month, he took the head coaching position at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

While the Jones, Wall and Najar bobbleheads provide sporty spirit in our office, another VOA colleague, John Ogulnik, gets musical inspiration from his bobblehead.

Jerry Garcia Bobblehead

John Ogulnik

John is a big fan of the Grateful Dead and the band’s late singer, songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia. John says some people tell him he even looks like Jerry. What do you think?





Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Priscah Jeptoo Prays, Runs and Wins

Posted April 22nd, 2013 at 2:39 pm (UTC-4)
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Priscah Jeptoo prays after her London Marathon victory
Photo: Reuters

Kenyan athlete Priscah Jeptoo is soft-spoken about her accomplishments, but she’s not shy about publicly proclaiming her faith.

After being the first woman to cross the finish line in Sunday’s London Marathon, with a winning time of 2:20:15, the 28-year-old Jeptoo immediately knelt and prayed.

Priscah Jeptoo prays after winning Olympic silver medal in London
Photo: Reuters

The fans in London saw a similar scene last year after Jeptoo won the silver medal in the Olympic women’s marathon.

She clocked 2:23:12, finishing five seconds behind Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, to win her first Olympic medal.

That Olympic race was held in blustery, rainy conditions, with Tiki recovering from a fall at about the halfway point to win the gold.

The two African women renewed their rivalry on Sunday under sunny skies.

Unfortunately, Olympic champion Tiki Gelana fell again in the British capital, and this fall ultimately forced her to withdraw.

She collided with Canadian wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy near a drinks table at about the 15 kilometer mark and pulled out of the race at Tower Bridge.

In a statement after the race, Tiki Gelana said, “I fell down and hurt both legs and my right ankle, and broke my shoelace. I tried to catch up but was in heavy pain. I do not blame Josh Cassidy for the accident.”

Priscah Jeptoo runs to victory in the London Marathon
Photo: Reuters

For her part, Priscah Jeptoo has now won marathons in Portugal, France, Italy and England.

In a post-race interview after her London victory, Priscah said she couldn’t help but think of last week’s Boston Marathon.

Her friend and training partner, Rita Jeptoo (no relation), won the women’s title in Boston.

Priscah says she was sorry to hear about the bombings near the finish line in Boston. She says she will pray for the victims in Boston and those who lost loved ones.


Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Shining the Light after Boston Marathon Tragedy

Posted April 16th, 2013 at 11:46 am (UTC-4)
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Sonny on the track at the 2005 World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

I run for a lot of different reasons – some physical, some emotional, some social, some spiritual and some psychological.

Fellow runner and sports journalist Mike Wise, writing in Tuesday’s Washington Post newspaper, says, “I know there are things worked out in your head on a run that cannot be worked out in a therapist’s office or a friend’s living room, a clarity only a physical journey can bestow.”

“Putting in the miles, getting to a place of almost serenity and purpose in your running, can take you away from whatever was gnawing at you before you made the decision to put on your shoes and walk out the door.”

On Tuesday morning, I put on my shoes, walked out the door and ran for an hour in honor of the victims of Monday’s deadly

Candlelight vigil for Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Photo: Josh Haner/New York Times

bomb blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. I thought of the three people who were killed in the blasts, including an eight-year-old boy. He’ll never run again.

Todd and Sonny

Friend and fellow runner Todd Gothberg finished his 15th Boston Marathon on Monday. Before the race, Todd told me, “I won’t sacrifice the gift.” He was talking about the gift of being able to run.

We both know people who can no longer run for health reasons. But to be crippled or maimed or killed by what the White House is describing as “clearly an act of terror?”

I remember the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. My neighbors and I walked to the curb and held lit candles for the victims. We must shine the light in the face of such darkness.

Shortly after Monday’s tragedy, Todd said, “I can’t fathom this. I’m praying.” I can’t fathom this either, Todd, so I’m praying and running and trying to shine the light.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Dieng Returns To Final Four

Posted April 1st, 2013 at 7:01 pm (UTC-4)
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Gorgui Dieng puts up a shot during a University of Louisville men’s basketball practice. Photo: AP

Gorgui Dieng (pronounced GOR-gee Jeng) says one of his personal goals at the University of Louisville is to win a national college basketball championship, and for the second year in a row, the tall center from Senegal has a great shot at lifting the trophy.

Dieng and the Cardinals of Louisville have once again advanced to The Final Four in the NCAA men’s championship tournament. They will play Wichita State on Saturday, April 6, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Michigan meets Syracuse in the other semifinal, with the two winners moving on to the national title game Monday, April 8.

Last year in the semifinals, Louisville lost to state rival Kentucky, 69-61. Kentucky then went on to beat Kansas, 67-59, for its eighth national title.

Gorgui Dieng blocks the shot of Duke’s Mason Plumlee March 31st. Photo: Reuters

On Sunday, Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, as top-seeded Louisville defeated Duke, 85-63, to book a ticket to Atlanta. Such performances have caught the eyes of National Basketball Association scouts.

Even though the 23-year-old Dieng has one year of eligibility remaining with Louisville, he’s expected to enter the 2013 NBA Draft, which will be held June 27th at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Gorgui Dieng dunks and scores during the NCAA men’s college basketball championship tournament. Photo: AP

Scouts at one of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camps in South Africa first noticed Dieng when he was a teenager. Their support helped him move to a prep school in West Virginia, and from there, he has improved in each of his three seasons at Louisville.

With his size, strength and athleticism, Gorgui Dieng could be headed for a long professional career in the NBA. He also wants children in Senegal to see what basketball has done for him. “I want to go back home and give back,” says Dieng. “People helped me to get here to go to school and play basketball, I want to go back home and do the same thing for the kids.”

For now, though, Dieng is thinking of Saturday’s game against Wichita State. He knows Louisville is only two victories away from its third national title, and first since 1986.



Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Kenyan Marathoner Erick Mose says, “Vamanos!”

Posted March 19th, 2013 at 12:13 pm (UTC-4)
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Kenya’s Erick Mose wins the Asics Los Angeles Marathon on March 17th. Photo: AP.

While many top Kenyan distance runners train at home to prepare for big international races, Erick Mose took a different tact in winning the recent Asics Los Angeles Marathon in southern California.

The 26-year-old Mose set a personal best of 2:09:44, breaking away in the final two miles from his friend Julius Keter, the grandson of Kenyan Olympic legend Kip Keino. Keter was runner-up in 2:10:31.

In a post-race interview with VOA reporter Nnamdi Moweta, Mose credited his high altitude training in the mountains of Mexico for his victory.

He said he’s been living for almost the past four years in Toluca, about 60 kilometers west-southwest of Mexico City.

“I’m training in Mexico because the altitude is almost the same as Kenya,” says Mose. “It was difficult when I first entered Mexico, because I wasn’t speaking Spanish, but now I speak Spanish.”

Mountain area in Toluca, Mexico

Mose says more than 30 Kenyans live in Toluca, and while he’s adjusted to Mexican culture, “I focus only on races and training.”

The Kenyan athlete says he likes Mexico’s proximity to the United States, which has numerous big city marathons that offer prize money.

Mose says he’s planning to run another marathon in June or July, and he hopes to lower his personal best to 2:07 or 2:08.

While Mose endorses Mexico as a place for other Kenyan marathoners to train, he does miss his friends and family back home in Kenya.

He says he plans to use the $25,000 first place prize in Los Angeles to build a home for his parents in the Nairobi area.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Luis Figo Football Academy in South Sudan

Posted March 6th, 2013 at 2:33 pm (UTC-4)

Luis Figo
Photo: Reuters

Here’s a Sonny Side of Sports salute for Luis Figo, the former Portuguese soccer star who says he’s planning to open a football academy in South Sudan, Africa’s newest country. At a news conference in the capital, Juba, the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year said the academy will focus on education as much as football.

“We are in the first steps,” says Figo, “but for me it’s always very important to conciliate the football and the education. Because you never know if you’re going to be a professional football player or not. If you don’t study, you don’t deserve to play.”

Star Petroleum, an international oil company that operates in South Sudan, is helping finance the academy. Company officials say children age 10 and younger will be trained in South Sudan, while older players will be eligible for scholarships abroad, including Spain. As part of the initiative, they say South Sudanese coaches will also receive scholarships for training.

Luis Figo celebrates a goal for Inter Milan in 2007.
Photo: Reuters

The planned Luis Figo Football Academy is getting an enthusiastic response from Sonny Side of Sports Facebook fans in Africa.

Luis Figo and Ghanaian teammate Sulley Muntari at an Inter Milan match in 2009.
Photo: Reuters

Musa Fab Lib Bangura, writing from Freetown, Sierra Leone, says, “Luis Figo, God will definitely bless you for having such a great idea.” And Pitso Nelson Makhanya, writing from Mafeteng, Lesotho, says, “that’s great news for Figo, South Sudan and the African football family.”

Luis Figo retired from football in 2009. He made 127 appearances for Portugal’s national football team, making him the most capped Portuguese player in history.

At the club level, the 40-year-old Figo played for Sporting CP in Portugal, Inter Milan in Italy, and Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain.

The attacking midfielder is also remembered for his spectacular goals. Figo scored 32 goals for Portugal and 91 total for his four European clubs.


Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.


Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

The Sonny Side of Sports is broadcast Monday through Friday at 1630 and 1830 UTC/GMT. And on Fridays at 1730 UTC/GMT, Sonny has an expanded 30-minute sports show.

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