Jamaica Gleaner / Jamaica is a blessed country, and it is blessed, despite the state of crime and health care, because of the many outstanding achievements in many forms of endeavours by its citizens.
In sport, in particular, and especially in athletics and more so in sprinting, the name Jamaica is spoken in awe, with reverence, and drives fear into the hearts of many around the world.
To many people, this would seem as not only something great and something unexpected; it would also appear that they believe that champions like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson, Courtney Walsh, Chris Gayle, and Alia Atkinson fell from the sky like some unbelievable but wonderful miracle.
To others, however, those who experienced life immediately after the Second World War or thereabout, there were stars before those of today. There were men and women like Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint, Fuarnado Roberts, Joy Foster, Monica DeSouza, Bunny Grant, Lawrence Rowe, Michael McCallum, Michael Holding, Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert, David Weller, Richard Russell, Andrew Phillips and a host of others.
There were men and women whose performances caused the name of Jamaica to resound around the world in a time of little or no publicity for small countries doing big things and upstaging bigger and more powerful countries.
There was little or no television, especially for small countries, and certainly not of the magnitude of today, where television is the heart of sport, taking it to the four corners of the earth, spreading its popularity, and making it richer and richer as each the day passes.
While Jamaica may be the envy of the world because of its sprinters, its growing depth in athletics, netball, the presence of Atkinson and other quality performers, and its wider presence in the field of sport generally, it certainly is losing ground in sports such as cricket – despite a five-year run a few years ago – football, boxing, table tennis, tennis, basketball, squash, badminton, hockey, cycling, darts, and, despite the wonderful performance of the West Indies team, women’s cricket.
Some of these sports are apparently making their way back, and desperately trying to do so, but regardless of the reasons, and regardless of what the associations may say, it is difficult not to reminisce or to recall the days of the 1960s, the 1970s, 1980s and so on when they were in full bloom and bringing joy to Jamaicans.
Kings and queens
In cricket, I remember such names as Alfred Valentine, Neville Bonitto, Franz Alexander, Collie Smith, Jackie Hendriks, Easton McMorris, Maurice Foster, Renford Pinnock, Arthur Barrett, and Lester King and their performances.
In football, I remember such names as Lindy Delapenha, Noel ‘My Son’ Tappin, Siddie Bartlett, Owen Parker, Bunny Goodison, Bunny Clarke, Anthony Hill, Denzil Lue, Karl Largie, Henry Largie, Vester Constantine, and Ken Barnes, and I also remember the likes of “The pirate of Port Royal” Selwyn Murphy, Orville Edwards, Warren Barrett, Ricardo ‘Bibby’ Gardner, Ian Goodison, and Theodore Whitmore.
And there were many others, names such as Bunny Grant, Percy Hayles, and Trevor Berbick in boxing, Leo Davis, Glen Mitchell, Dave Foster, Orville Haslam, Pat Loi, Anita Belnavis, Stephen Hylton in table tennis when Jamaica were kings and queens of the Caribbean, Richard Russell, Lance Lumsden, David Tate, the Hale brothers, and Joni Vandegroot of tennis, and one like Byah Maragh of golf.
There were also many more, players like Ken Palmer and Nigel Casserly of badminton, and Tony Seixas, Tenge Brown, and Hyacinth Misir of darts, Michelle Holt, Audrey Gaynor, Tasha Cooke of hockey, and David Weller and Peter Aldridge of cycling, not to mention the earlier days of one like Frankie Minott, the king of Town Moor and professional cycling.
Those were the days when sport in Jamaica was really big, and when Jamaica hosted many a world event, events like the days of the Sunshine heavy-weight world title fight, the Lovebird Table Tennis Tournament and the visit of a world champion like Stellan Bengtsson, the days of the Shell/Air Florida/Jamaica Cricket Association cricket festival, and the Johnny Walker World Golf Championship, the Mazda Champs, and champions likes Nick Faldo, Severiano Ballesteros, and Nancy Lopez.
The days of the Brandon Trophy and Davis Cup matches, and they were days when champions like Muhammad Ali of boxing, Pele of football, English football teams, Richard Bergman of table tennis fame, tennis champs or future tennis champs like Bjorn Borg visited Jamaica and when the local stars played for little more than fun and the honour of representing the country, their beloved Jamaica.
In those days, the days when Jamaicans of today tend to forget what Jamaica and Jamaicans used to do, people used to watch sport in numbers, and sometimes, most times, paid for the privilege of doing so in order to support a particular sport.
At times like these, particularly whenever Jamaica loses, or does not play well, and the people forget how Jamaica and Jamaicans used to play, I remember all the wonderful people who guided the development of sport in Jamaica in those long forgotten but wonderful days.
I know that there are some of them still around, people of passion and knowledge and integrity, and I thank God for them, although they seem to be less in numbers at a time when they are so badly needed.
If only there were more of them around these days when there is so much need for them because there are so many more people around, and people of many dreams.
Jamaica still has one like Mike Fennell, one like Lorna Bell, two like Glen Mills and Stephen Francis and many others, especially in track and field, where the sport is getting bigger and bigger as the days go by.
In saying thanks to them, however, I cannot help but wish that those who went before, or more men and women like them, were still around and involved to share their passion for sport, and their knowledge of the respective sport with the Jamaicans of today.
Sport is sadly lacking because of the absence of men and women like Vanny Hunt, Keith Noad, Owen Batchelor, Trevor Parchment, Baz Freckleton, Kitty Sharpe, Kay Wilson, Leila Robinson, Molly Rhone, Tino Barovier, Lincoln ‘Happy’ Sutherland, George Lazarus, Franz Botek and one like Pat Anderson.
More importantly, however, I wish there were more men like G.C. Foster, Ted Lamont, Keith Gardner, Allan Rae, Jackie Hendriks, Utpal Ganguli, Ted Gray, Leighton Duncan, Winston Chung, George Thompson, and Teddy McCook, men who knew what they were doing, did it well, and served their sport and Jamaica with distinction fairly and honestly and without pay.
Today, there are many people in sport, but they are in it more for what they can get out of it more than for what they can put into it. And although that is understandable because of the need of the people, that is not desirable.
Jamaica is basically a poor country, and it cannot get richer without honesty, hard work, a love for each other, and some old fashion voluntarism.
JAMAICA: Tony Becca | Wanted, a few more good men
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