Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Features

“He’s Going to be With Us”: Rufus Ntiamoah’s Legacy to Live On Through Those Who Loved and Followed Him 

By Casey Ryan Vock

While lacrosse’s ambassadors are many and all their dedication essential to the sport, few have made an impact as critical and far-reaching as late World Lacrosse staff member Rufus Ntiamoah.  

The first president of both the Ghana Lacrosse Association and the Africa Association of Lacrosse, Ntiamoah suffered unexpected health complications on June 9. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, he passed away. 

He had turned 39 just a few days earlier. 

Ntiamoah’s death is a devastating loss for his family members and friends, as well as the growing population of lacrosse players across Africa, many of whom had been directly or indirectly introduced to the game through his efforts. 

But thanks to his leadership and the passion that he instilled in those around him, Ntiamoah’s legacy will undoubtedly live on, and his influence will continue to grow despite his days being cut short. 

“He had an innate ability to get people to rally behind him to get things done,” said TJ Buchanan, director of sport for World Lacrosse.  

Buchanan and the rest of World Lacrosse were introduced to Ntiamoah in 2019 when his hard work alongside Brian Gorodetsky was instrumental in launching the GLA. Gorodetsky, a teacher who’d previously introduced the game and taught in places such as Serbia and Hungary, needed a dependable candidate to take the reins once he left Ghana. 

He found that and more in Ntiamoah. A longtime physical education teacher at Lincoln Community School in Accra and a successful farmer, he was an entrepreneur respected throughout his community and beyond.  

“Brian’s plan was to be there a couple years, so he needed to get people from Ghana involved as leaders and let them be a real driving force,” Buchanan said.  

“Rufus was like ‘let’s do this, lacrosse is awesome.’ But it wasn’t just the sport of lacrosse in particular. It was just that enthusiasm for working with young people and providing them with opportunities. He had an amazing passion for working with kids and providing them the opportunity to experience being physically active.” 

Prior to his own discovery of lacrosse, Ntiamoah had used cricket as a pathway to encourage and empower young people to put themselves on a better, healthier path.  

His perspective was an informed one. As kids, he and his younger brother, Evans, developed their coordination at the family’s ping-pong table and later were allowed to pursue any sports they liked.  

Rufus Ntiamoah went on to shine in multiple sports, including basketball and soccer but most notably, cricket. As a teenager, he was selected to compete in games and tournaments hosted by the Western Africa Cricket Council.  

As a senior in high school, he’d proven himself to be a truly dedicated student-athlete, balancing the responsibilities of traveling to compete in cricket and still excelling in his coursework despite sacrificing significant time.  

“We realized that he was a different breed of athlete,” Evans Ntiamoah said. 

Rufus Ntiamoah never lost the cricket skills he’d developed. But as he moved away from playing and began teaching and coaching sports as an adult, his brother saw him find his true calling.  

“He’s able to understand the complexities of the game and he tells you that ‘if you give me a team, I will not lose.’”  

According to his brother, a sense for people and their unique situations is what made Rufus Ntiamoah successful in bringing lacrosse to so many boys and girls across the second-largest continent.  

“By age 25, he had been to about half the African countries so it was easier for him to get used to the coaches and understand their needs because a country that has gone through civil war would accept lacrosse in a different way…so he understands all these complexities and he was able to make it work.” 

In lacrosse, Rufus Ntiamoah saw a sport growing for good reason, and with what he’d learned already, he saw it as an opportunity to better lives not just in Ghana but all of Africa.  

“He said that ‘indeed this is the new love that I have found in terms of sports, and I am leaving everything that I am doing to make this sport grow,’” his brother recalled.  

The younger Ntiamoah remembered the words his brother used to win support from World Lacrosse to spread lacrosse throughout Africa.  

“I remember him telling them, ‘I know what you guys can do for Ghana, but I need you guys to look at our neighbors, to look at the people around us. I want to take this game across Africa. If you give me the support, if you show me the way, if you do as I have dreamed about, then this game is going to go places.’”  

Rufus Ntiamoah dedicated himself to teaching lacrosse’s fundamentals and planting seeds by driving boxes of equipment to new communities. He’d hand sticks to beginners who’d never heard of the game until they met him.  

“He was able to make every kid smile,” his brother said. “He saw that through any game which he had played he should be able to impact or make changes in their lives.” 

In 2020, Buchanan and other World Lacrosse staff members traveled to Africa to visit numerous countries, including Ghana, where they met Rufus Ntiamoah in person and were immediately impressed by his energy, his will and his ability to achieve results. 

“Lightning in a bottle,” was Buchanan’s first impression, and it became a lasting one.  

In planning for the visit, Rufus Ntiamoah had promised to have 450 kids “ready to play” at one local school.  

“Sure enough, we show up and it’s like the entire school comes out onto the field,” Buchanan said. “We’re just looking at each other like ‘holy cow, this guy’s not joking around.’” 

In 2022, Rufus Ntiamoah was elected as the first president of the AAL, which along with Ghana included Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.  

Shortly after, World Lacrosse created a position that would oversee lacrosse’s growth and development across Africa, and he was quickly identified as the best candidate and “the natural choice” to take on the job.  

“We looked at what he’d done in his home country and knew that if we gave him the resources, that it could go crazy, and it has,” Buchanan said.   

In his time as sport manager for Africa, Rufus Ntiamoah was a key player in the founding of 11 member countries across the continent. In 2023 alone, he helped establish nine new federations, spurring the largest year of member growth in World Lacrosse history. 

“In those two years, across those 11 countries, I would venture to say it’s five to six thousand kids that his efforts have impacted, which is an incredible accomplishment when we talk about the concept of growing the game,” Buchanan said. “For one individual to have that kind of impact is amazing.” 

Lacrosse made a tremendous mark on Ntiamoah’s life, too. It brought him to America for the first time when he traveled to Maryland in early 2023 for the US Lacrosse Convention and then returned later that same year to California for the men’s world championship. He learned from some of the best athletes and coaches and his World Lacrosse colleagues, and the experiences inspired and emboldened him, enriching his outlook for lacrosse in Africa. 

Back home in Ghana, his family – his wife, Mary, and his daughter, Nana Yaa Agyei – fell in love with the game along with him, and they devoted countless hours to the cause together. 

“He brought everybody on board,” Evans Ntiamoah said. “Nuclear and extended family, his previous employers, communities, everyone came to support him. So, if you ask me, that’s what made him love the game. That it’s a new life, it’s a new sport. It’s called the spirit game and is able to change the lives of young kids who believe, who challenge themselves.” 

When he observed another country having success in developing a sport, he’d try to learn from it and borrow what he could to improve his own grand design for lacrosse in Ghana and the rest of Africa. Unassailable, and adamant that behind every challenge lies an opportunity, Rufus Ntiamoah set himself apart with desire, perseverance and his calm response to adversity.  

“If you encounter a problem you can leave it, but you have to come back and solve it,” Evans Ntiamoah channeled valuable advice from his older brother. “So, surprises are expected, and the obstacle is still the way, so make it happen. Don’t rest, don’t be complacent.” 

Remembering the bright presence Rufus Ntiamoah was at any given moment, his family already feels his spirit all around them.  

“We physically will not see him. I am in pain yes, the family is in pain, yes. But we have in our hearts that he’s going to be with us because every single day he says something to cheer you up and motivate you,” Evans Ntiamoah said. 

“With me, he’s been my brother, he’s been my friend, but he’s been my mentor and coach as well. So, he’s going to be with me, but I’m in pain. But I know that he’s in a happy place.” 

In the wake of his passing, praise has poured in on social media as players from all over Africa have shared their gratitude for Rufus Ntiamoah and sent condolences to his family. Buchanan and others have been in awe to read moving tributes for the man who helped bring lacrosse to so many.  

“The other learning we can take from him is that, with the right structures, you can succeed, anywhere,” Buchanan said. “That’s something all World Lacrosse members and even other organizations outside of the sport of lacrosse can learn from. If you have a plan, and it’s a solid plan, and you follow the plan, it’ll work.” 

The ultimate recognition of Rufus Ntiamoah, his colleagues, family and friends will all celebrate his life in pursuing the vision he so fervently strived to bring to fruition over the past five years. It’s an outlook that, by 2030, sees African lacrosse players armed with the resources and knowledge – much like American players – to thrive on the field and off it as leaders of their community and in their non-lacrosse professions.  

Both Buchanan and Evans Ntiamoah want to quickly get to work, to keep attacking and building on what is already firmly in place and well in motion. Within that plan are the resources that their late friend and brother saw as crucial to the advancement of lacrosse in Ghana – namely dedicated lacrosse fields and, eventually, a sport-specific training facility.  

While a new structure dedicated to lacrosse is a real but longer-term goal for the GLA, Buchanan expects progress to be made swiftly on a field that will pay homage to the man who put lacrosse on his back in Ghana.  

“To have a dedicated lacrosse field in Ghana would be an amazing first step in helping to bring Rufus’ dream and vision for the sport into a reality.” 

You May Also Like

Olympic Vision

World Lacrosse’s decades-long vision to return the sport to the Olympic stage has been realized, with the International Olympic Committee approving lacrosse’s inclusion in...

Field

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, USA – World Lacrosse today announced the 87-game schedule for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship set to take place in...

Men's

ESPN will serve as the exclusive television partner of the upcoming 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship presented by Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego,...

Men's

The 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship presented by Rady Children’s Hospital concluded here at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego with the United States defending...