Football was being played yesterday with the opening weekend of the Premier League of Belize tournament, but football history was made earlier in the afternoon at Henry’s Eden Resort a couple miles outside of San Ignacio on the Benque Viejo Road, where some of the district’s greatest football stars of yesteryear gathered along with relatives, friends, football fans and invited guests for the first ever Mighty Avengers Hall of Fame and Cayo Football Awards ceremony.
Just a couple weeks ago on September 15 in Belize City, the first “Mugger Day” was held in honor of Belize City football legend Louis “Bembe, the Mugger” Garbutt, who passed away on June 28 in New York. His close friend and legendary teammate on Independence, Serapio “Big Mole” Alvarez, also passed away less than two months after the Mugger; so the day turned out to be a memorial for him also, as well as a forum for fans to reminisce on other great football stars of the past, some deceased and some still with us. Present at the gathering was Mole’s ailing younger brother, Ramon “Lee Mole” Alvarez, himself a gigantic star of the 1970’s. And shortly afterwards we learned that another legend, Angus “Mr. Ball” Vernon is reported to have suffered a stroke. (By the way, does anyone know if Angus has yet received the Meritorious Service award?) The times seem to be directing the football family to look back and give recognition and show appreciation to the past stars who have lighted up our sporting life by their performances on the football field, as well as by their character off the pitch.
The Mugger was posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service award at a ceremony at the Bliss Center in connection with the recent Independence Day celebrations. And sometime back in the 1980’s, a Belize Sports Hall of Fame was launched by the National Sports Council, and plaques of the awardees are still hung on the walls of the Sports Council office in Belize City. Unfortunately, the Belize Sports Hall of Fame has apparently become dormant after that inaugural induction, perhaps partly due to the sad tradition of discontinuing initiatives after a change in political administrations in Belize. But there had never been, to the best of our knowledge, an individual football club launching its own Hall of Fame in Belize. Not until the Mighty Avengers.
It is perhaps fitting that the annals of football history in Belize, when it is written, will record that the first football club to organize and, with dignity and distinction, carry out an awards ceremony for its first Hall of Fame inductees, was the Mighty Avengers Football Club from the western district of Cayo. Always a class act, the Awards Ceremony coordinated by the Avengers Club Organizing Committee included all the “pomp and circumstance” of the annual Belize National Patriots Awards ceremony recently held at the Bliss Center in conjunction with the Independence Day celebrations.
Special invited guests for the occasion at Henry’s Eden Resort included FFB President Ruperto Vicente (he was represented by Vice President Sergio Chuc); Earl Trapp, Jr., President of Cayo Football Association; Hon. Erwin Contreras (represented by his father Rafael “Chapai” Contreras); Evan X Hyde (represented by his brother Charles X Hyde); and guest speaker, Hon. Michael Finnegan.
We learned from remarks made by the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Mighty Avengers Football Club, Rodney Neal, that the idea for the Hall of Fame began with a chance meeting between himself and former Avengers goalkeeper Michael “Teddy” Recinos while on a trip to Los Angeles last year. Teddy suggested an Avengers reunion, and this was accomplished in April of this year, when David Cruz, the club’s Secretary pushed the idea further to the launching of the Mighty Avengers Hall of Fame. The Organizing Committee for yesterday’s event included: Rodney Neal – Chairman; David Cruz – Secretary; Gerald “Speedy” Henry – Treasurer (his Henry’s Eden Resort was made available free of cost); and Members – Daniel “Nayo” Waight, Michael “Teddy” Recinos, Morrison Padgett and Hermilio Zetina.
The afternoon began shortly after 2:00 p.m. with the boisterous singing of the national anthem by all in attendance. The invocation followed by Mrs. Yvette Gill, daughter of founding Avengers Secretary, David Cruz. Former Avengers Albert “Gabe” Roches and Daniel “Nayo” Waight shared the Master of Ceremonies duties. And then the speeches began, starting with the Welcome by former Avengers player Allan Moore; followed by an “Avengers History” by Gerald “Speedy” Henry; remarks by Organizing Committee Chairman, Rodney Neal; a “Western District History” by former Cayo football star and minister of government Hector Silva, who enlightened the audience with the outstanding achievements of the Western District selection of the 1940’s – ‘50’s. He was also presented with a Recognition Award by David Cruz. Sergio Chuc gave a message of congratulations and support from the FFB for the Avengers youth football team effort. Other remarks were given by Earl Trapp, Jr., President of the Cayo Football Association, and Charles X Hyde (deputizing for Evan X Hyde), who presented the “Mighty Avengers Lifetime Members” awards; and he was followed by special guest speaker, Hon. Michael Finnegan, whose Amandala article “One in a Million You” was laminated and copies on hand for him to present to each Mighty Avengers Hall of Fame inductee along with a Hall of Fame plaque.
In his Welcome address, Allan Moore chronicled some highlights going back some 45 years to the start of the Avengers, and reminded those present that this was a “… historic and milestone event in the continued life of a great football team that has left an indelible mark on our communities of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and by extension Belize.” Moore, obviously still imbued with the admiration and love of his great team, and considers the club to be still alive, observed that “The Mighty Avengers was much more than a gifted bunch of young, talented and energetic individuals with strong and competent leadership. They were role models in their own right who, more often than not, got the job done – won games and made their fans happy.”
Aside from their “entertaining games” and “excellent performance,” Moore said there were “the intangibles… the bonding agents… that served in uniting our community… our San Ignacio and Santa Elena.” He recalled a period “in the mid ‘70’s when Santa Elena and San Ignacio couldn’t see eye to eye. One could not pass the bridge without being menaced by the other side. That year, Avengers brought out its first long sleeve set of white uniforms with the logo of the Hawksworth Bridge printed on them and a capital ‘A’ as the mid-support suspension of the bridge. This logo was… powerful… suggesting connectivity, accessibility, commonality, support and unity, the effects of which possibly played a great role in getting the twin towns together again.” This was evidenced by the positive change in the social climate, so that, whenever an Avengers game was to be played the next day, no alcohol would be sold to any Avengers player by any of the establishments on either side of the bridge. They were only allowed their treats after the game. Avengers had re-united the twin towns.
Gerald “Speedy” Henry then briefly recounted the history behind the launching of the Mighty Avengers Football Club, how some over-confidence and carelessness had led the then highly regarded Western District selection to receive the “shock of our lives,” a disappointing 6-1 defeat in P.G. in June 1967 in the Inter-District competition. The team management and players were so embarrassed, heart-broken and demoralized by the loss that an emergency meeting was called immediately after their return to Cayo; and their united resolve at that meeting to avenge and never repeat that terrible failure was expressed in the new name suggested by then team manager David Cruz, inspired by comic book characters, and thus was born the Mighty Avengers Football Club.
Speedy said that Avengers never participated in any Cayo football competitions. The players played on different teams in the local competitions, but they came together as The Mighty Avengers to represent the Cayo District in the Inter-District or sometimes in the Belize City competition, which often featured teams from other districts. He said the team was always “very fit and very disciplined,” and was so popular that crowds even flocked to their workouts on weekdays; prompting the club management to suggest to the then Town Council foreman of many years, Mr. Norman Broaster, to try and get the football field fenced, so the club could earn funds from its weekend games. Thus, when his efforts came to fruition, it was agreed by all to name it the Norman Broaster Stadium. Speedy read a list of 46 names of players who had performed on the Mighty Avengers team during its era from 1967-1979. In addition, there were 13 members of management, and some 60 die-hard fans who travelled everywhere with the team. He noted that there is now a new Avengers Farm System, as some young kids have been adopted to begin developing the next generation of the Mighty Avengers, under the guidance of the son of another Avengers Hall of Fame inductee, Daniel “Nayo” Waight.
In his remarks, Charles X noted that the selection out of Cayo that participated in the Belize City competitions was always a top ranking team that drew packed audiences at the MCC. He recalled the story of the fore-runner to Avengers around 1966 or ‘67, a team named Rocking-R out of Cayo sponsored by a Mr. Bull, which was one victory away from securing the championship, but was held to a draw by a low ranked Arsenal team that had strengthened up with suspended Independence players only for that match. Rocking-R led 1-nil with 5 minutes remaining in regulation, when a Mugger corner was headed in by “Hani” Robinson to tie the game and deny Rocking-R the championship. And a 1971 newspaper clipping cited Avengers as the then league leader in points with 9 wins, 2 draws and only 1 defeat. He congratulated the Avengers Club on the Hall of Fame and said he was pleased to know that it was planned to continue the event in the coming years.
Hon. Finnegan once again lauded the Mighty Avengers team for their brilliant and enjoyable performances to the delight of fans. He re-iterated his selection of Albert “Pappy” Smith as the best football player he has seen in this country, but had special words of praise, and condolences to his wife, Esmay, for recently deceased Avengers star Samuel “Pilis” Neal, who he said was just a notch below Pappy in skill on the football field. He also expressed condolences for another recently departed Avengers star, Calbert “Culebra” Neal. And he commended each of the Hall of Fame inductees in turn, as well as other members not present, for their stellar performances on the Mighty Avengers team.
It was already dark before all the awards had been handed out, culminating with the first Hall of Fame induction of the “Magnificent 7” Avengers.
The complete list of those honored at the awards ceremony included outstanding members of the various clubs which had represented the Cayo District from the 1950’s to 2000 (D – deceased):
“Western District” members – Hector Silva; Alvaro “Pap” Habet; Willie Bush (D); Leandro Leal; and Elias Alfaro.
“Cayo District” members – Herbert “H.A.” Trapp; Ronald Hulse; and Salvador Habet.
“Verdes F.C.” members – Rafael “Chapai” Contreras; Erwin Contreras; Amin “Zorro” Cano; and Tony Castellanos.
“MIGHTY AVENGERS FOOTBALL CLUB” :-
Lifetime Members, Fans & Supporters – Daniel Gutierrez (D); Theodore “Flash” Waight (D); Lloyd Awe; Luis “Bunny” Gongora; George Flowers (D); Evan X Hyde; Michael Finnegan; Ernesto “Chief” Azueta.
Lifetime Members of Management – Eric Fairweather; David Cruz; Alwyn Smith; Jaime “Canche” Zetina; Hermilio Zetina; Jalil Bedran (D); George Haylock, Sr. (D).
Lifetime Members – Rodney Neal; Gabriel “Gabe” Roches; Victor “Ba” August (D); Elias Juan; Stanley “Timba” Robinson; Calbert “Culebra” Neal (D); Earl Haylock (D); David Smith; Timothy “Timmy” Bedran (D); Michael “Teddy” Recinos; Arturo “Turo” Azueta; Hilbert Linares.
HALL OF FAME – Gerald “Speedy” Henry; Cristino Jorge “Maya” Ortega; Albert “Pappy” Smith; Daniel “Nayo” Waight; Samuel “Pilis” Neal (D); Theodore “Bones” Lennan; Raymond “Steela” Garbutt.
After each saying a few words of appreciation (Mrs. Esmay Neal, wife of Samuel “Pilis” Neal, spoke on his behalf, and his son Samuel received the plaque on his behalf), the 7 Hall of Famers were seated in a row facing the guests holding their Hall of Fame plaques. There were mixed emotions, both joy and sadness, as the memories of their departed teammates flooded their minds, and particularly “Maya”, “Pappy” and “Steela” were all briefly overwhelmed with emotion at the start of their addresses. But they all regained themselves and expressed what was in their hearts to thank those gathered.
The “tolling of the bell” for the departed was followed by a Vote of Thanks by Organizing Committee Secretary, David Cruz. And then the inductees along with their fellow Avengers Club members stood together and sang the Mighty Avengers Club Song, Heart of Jesus, to end the evening.
The event was the first of its kind for a football club in Belize, and the joyful reunion will hopefully start a new annual tradition for the Mighty Avengers Football Club, and lead other legendary clubs from all districts, and even the national association, the FFB, to consider something similar.