Iconic role models helping western Jamaica athletes stick with it
DESPITE BEING hampered by underutilised multimillion-dollar sporting facilities and the lure of the nefarious lottery scamming, aspiring sportsmen and sportswomen in western Jamaica have one incredible asset, arguably the best pool of role models one could hope for.
While the out-of-use 400m synthetic track at the Montego Bay Stadium has robbed them of the only championship quality facility in western Jamaica, but with or without that facility, they can draw inspiration from the exploits of celebrated track icons such as legends Usain Bolt, who hails from Trelawny; Merlene Ottey, from Hanover; and fellow sprint queen, Veronica Campbell-Brown, a product of Trelawny.
“Although Bolt was a sprinter and I run long distance events, walking the same halls he walked here at William Knibb High School gives me great motivation,” said Nathaniel Wallace, the captain of the Trelawny-based school’s track team.
“Bolt has inspired me a lot. Knowing that the fastest and greatest athlete is from Trelawny and came to William Knibb gives me the push to do my utmost best.”
Like in track and field, the west, which dominated football in the late 1980s and 1990s, winning numerous schoolboy and premier league football titles, provided the bulk of the local-based Reggae Boys, who competed in the 1998 World Cup in France, has football role models a dime a dozen.
With players such as Jamaica’s 1998 World Cup heroes Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore, who scored in Jamaica historic 2-1 win against Japan; former goalkeeper Warren Barrett, who captained the team; second-choice goalkeeper Aaron Lawrence, who kept goal in the win against Japan; and defenders, the late Stephen ‘Shorty’ Malcolm; and Durrant Brown; as well as Jamaica’s 1991 Shell Caribbean Cup star, Paul ‘Tegat’ Davis, who emerged in a tournament that Jamaica were winning for the first time, the west is chock-full of football stars for aspiring players to emulate.
“Western Jamaica was the driver of Jamaica’s football when we won the Shell Cup in 1991 and when we qualified for the World Cup in France,” said former St James FA boss Wesmore Thomas, who presided over the golden era in St James’ football. “We need to use the story of people like Tappa and Tegat to inspire today’s youngsters if we want our football to rise again.”
While his umpiring exploits far supersede anything he did as a player, Steve Bucknor must be the ultimate role model for the region’s young players. After distinguishing himself at a talented cricketer at the high school and parish level, the multitalented Bucknor turned to umpiring and his 128 Test matches, 181 One-Day matches, and five consecutive ICC Cricket World Cup finals make him arguably one of the best umpires the world has ever seen.
“Steve is every youngster’s dream. He came from humble beginnings and achieved greatness on a level none of us could imagine,” the late David Earle, of Montego Bay Boys’ Club fame, once told The Gleaner.
“His photograph is proudly standing here in the club because we value his greatness and want others to walk in his footsteps.”
While not having the quantity of stars associated with athletics, football, and cricket, western Jamaica has a netball gem in Sunshine Girls captain, Jhaniele Fowler, who won three consecutive Super Netball Player-of-the-Year awards, playing professionally in Australia and is regarded as one of the best players in the world.
In other sports such as boxing, basketball, and swimming, the west also possesses high-quality role models. In boxing, St James is home to former WBA featherweight champion Nicholas ‘The Axeman’ Walters, who recently returned to boxing. In basketball, Trelawny native Samardo Samuels currently stands tall, as he is a major star playing in the Kosovo Basketball Super League in Europe, and in swimming, Rosemarie Logan and the Montego Bay-based Blue Marlin Swim Club continue to churn out gifted junior swimmers for the national programme.
“We have never been short on talent. What we need to do is create an industry around sports so that we can open up new opportunities for our young people,” said Montego Bay United FC’ s president Orville Powell.
“That is the vision behind my decision to create the Wespow Park.”