About 45 years ago Belize’s young ladies burst on the regional softball scene and heaped glory on themselves and the country of Belize. In 1974 our ladies won gold at the Central America and Caribbean Games in Santo Domingo, and in 1978 they actually defeated the mighty United States in head-to-head competition.
During that decade of glory, our young men were not involved in organized regional and international competition in football and basketball, and our young men fell behind. Remember, Belize was not a member of FIFA, because we were not an independent country, and when our football champions hosted Honduras’ Platence here at the MCC Grounds, we were humiliated, 9-0. A few years later, our young men were humiliated in basketball by Puerto Rico in Medellin, Colombia.
At this newspaper, quite young at the time, we were voices crying in the wilderness when we complained of the disparity between the triumphs of our young ladies in softball and the struggles of our young men in football and basketball. Between 1995 and 1998, after semi-professionalism had been introduced into both football and basketball, our young men experienced regional vindication in football, through Juventus of Orange Walk, and in basketball by way of the national basketball team in the 1998 CARICOM tournament and the Central American and Caribbean Games.
These performances between 1995 and 1998, however, were not sustained, and there were organizational reasons for the problems. Semi-pro basketball collapsed in 1997, and again a few years later, and then football, which has held on to semi-pro, experienced more than twelve years of darkness under the rule of Dr. Bertie Chimilio.
In the glory days of softball forty years ago and more, it was notable that our business community, across class, ethnic and other lines, supported the ladies softball program, which was an excellent and exemplary one. The thing is, it is always easier to support ladies than it is to support men, because ladies are not threatening or intimidating, generally speaking.
Two decades ago it became noticeable that Belize’s young men were experiencing serious socio-economic problems, especially in Belize City, and they began to fill the prison cells here. Today, this situation has become a national emergency. Under these circumstances, it is a breath of fresh air how our national football selection is performing in the regional Nations Cup in Costa Rica. This could be the start of something good. We have long been the doormats of Central America in football.
Our message today is to those of our immigrant communities, like the Mennonites, who have become wealthy in Belize over the last five decades. Belizean young men are not as evil as they appear on the television news. If you care for the country where you are making a good living, then when those of our young men who manage to survive the various pitfalls begin to represent The Jewel honorably, then you must find a way to support the organizations and programs which have nurtured and are nurturing those male youth.
In the past, all immigrant communities have done is put some money into the hands of badgering party politicians when it was election time. By so doing, successful immigrant communities believe they have fulfilled their civic responsibilities. Shame on Belize’s corrupt politicians, because they have not adequately supported sport programs here over the last four decades. The politicians deserve no credit for the success of the lady softballers in the 1960s and 1970s. The politicians did climb on the softball bandwagon, but softball was totally a remarkable product of the Belizean community, a story which has not been properly told, and a story which deserves to be repeated over and over again.
There is the question of which will come first in football – success on the regional stage or financial support? The chicken or the egg? We are seeing the seeds of something good in Costa Rica, but this will require financial nurturing. The roots community is under pressure. We need some of our successful immigrants to assist. All of us Belizeans will benefit when hope begins to bloom.
Early on, this has been a bad year in Belize. We saw some hope in Costa Rica. Let’s support our young men. Big up our boys.
(P.S. Belize plays Nicaragua in a very important game on Tuesday. The nation is very optimistic, but it is important for our coaches and players to understand that it will be difficult for our team to generate the same hype as when we played Guatemala on Sunday afternoon. The coaches and managers will have to work very hard to ensure our team’s focus on Tuesday. You don’t have to do anything about that when we face Guatemala. That is always jihad.)