Publisher — 18 November 2017
From The Publisher

Hilly Martinez was running the basketball committee at the time as the secretary, and he plotted with Cama to move basketball to Bird’s Isle. Cama was the soldier who moved the vital game clock. I remember that for sure. The St. Ignatius priest who tried to stand in their way was the formidable Urban Kramer, S. J.

Barry Bowen, for whom Hilly was employed at Coca Cola, wanted the Incatecu team for marketing purposes. The team was clean-cut and had “Northside” vibes, not to mention the fact that Canton and Craig were nephews of the Hon. Premier George Price. The Incatecu team was sponsored by the late Phil Gallaty, Sr., who was a basketball fanatic and loved his championship team. Gallaty, a son-in-law of Santiago Castillo, Sr., was also president of the basketball committee.

There was a great big uproar and power struggle. Eventually Incatecu was sponsored by Bowen as “Wheels,” but he was not allowed to put his Belikin beer brand name on the squad. Wheels won the championship, and then the following year they repeated as “Belikin Wheels” under a white American coach by the name of the Rev. Gerald Little.

Pulu Lightburn had become the on-court superstar of Belize basketball, but the sport was being run, to a great extent, by Wilton Cumberbatch, who was on Hilly’s basketball committee, was a referee on the referee board, and also captain, coach, and star player on teams which were some of Pulu’s main competition during the seventies.

Lightburn was a point guard who claims that he was averaging a triple double in his prime years. On defence, he played the forward position, which is to say, on the rebounding backline. So he cleaned the glass, ran the break and finished it if he had to. He dominated games the way Magic Johnson would do in America in the 1980’s. Plus, Pulu was cool under pressure. He knew how to win, and he never panicked.

–    pgs. 57-59, SPORTS, SIN AND SUBVERSION, by Evan X Hyde, Ramos Publishing, 2008

Very few Belizeans would remember that when our softball girls won gold at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Santo Domingo in 1974, a basketball selection travelled to the Dominican Republic on that trip as part of Belize’s sports contingent. The star of the Belize basketball team was a teenager named Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn. He would have been about 18 at the time.

I don’t know how the Incatecu entry in the 1975 senior basketball competition at the St. Ignatius School court was put together, but there were a lot of young St. John’s College (SJC) products on that team – Pulu, the late Fonso Martinez, the late Frankie Flowers, Bobby Leslie, and two of Premier George Price’s nephews – Henry Canton and David Craig.

Incatecu was a shoe store on the ground floor of Abdo’s building next to Augusto Quan on Albert Street. I believe the parent company was in Guatemala. But the Belize Incatecu franchise was being run by the late Phillip Gallaty, a white American from New Orleans who was married to a daughter of the late Santiago Castillo, Sr., who was considered Belize’s richest man in  1975. The likelihood is that San Cas owned the franchise, and Phil Gallaty, his son-in-law, ran it for him.

I know that the manager of the Incatecu basketball team was Jose “Chetin” Encalada, whose wife I believe was one of Premier Price’s nieces. In the December 1974 Belize City Council election, Chetin had been one of the nine candidates for the ruling People’s United Party (PUP), Mr. Price’s party. The new United Democratic Party (UDP) had defeated the PUP in that CitCo election, by six seats to three. Chetin Encalada was one of the three successful PUP candidates. I am wondering if Chetin managed the Incatecu shoe store, but, for the purposes of this column, it does not matter.

The defending champions of senior basketball in 1975 were Grand Marnier, a team led by Wilton “Cama” Cumberbatch and sponsored by the wealthy Quinto family. Grand Marnier stars included Cama, Harry “Straddle” Cadle, Pete August, and Mark Neal. I believe the great Evondale Coburn and the great Rico Gladden had already left for the States.

Grand Marnier was a very good team, but the young Incatecu, coached by a grizzled ex-American Marine named Jim Driscoll (I think Driscoll may have been a Peace Corps volunteer), defeated them to become kings of basketball in Belize. Pulu established that he was Belize’s best basketball player during that season, and he was in a situation where he was a golden boy in Belize City. He was the star player of a championship basketball team financed by the richest family in Belize, a family which had UDP bona fides, and his teammates included two of the PUP Premier’s nephews. Pulu was in a good situation, protected on all sides.

Incatecu was gilt-edged where basketball politics was concerned. Phil Gallaty was president of the basketball committee, and the secretary of that committee was Hilly Martinez, older brother of Fonso Martinez and a powerful executive at Barry Bowen’s Coca Cola franchise on King Street in the old capital.

As preparations began for the new basketball season in early 1976, it became clear that the ambitious and ruthless Barry Bowen, no doubt with the counsel of his consigliere, Hilly Martinez, had hatched a plot to steal Phil Gallaty’s precious Incatecu championship team away from him and the San Cas family.

Gallaty, with the business/sports honor of the mighty San Cas family at stake, fought back, using the administrative and legal mechanisms available to him as basketball president. But his own basketball secretary was leading the Barry Bowen charge. The plot included moving basketball from the St. Ignatius court to Bird’s Isle, where Bowen’s Belize Brewing Company would be able to sell its six-year-old Belikin beer and Belikin stout.

Pulu Lightburn got caught in the middle of this. All he wanted to do was play basketball: it was like he ate, drank, and slept basketball, and he had been crowned the king. As the fight between Barry Bowen and Phil Gallaty became more bitter, it began to seem that Incatecu might actually be disbanded as a team, because Gallaty reached the point where he would not accept his beautiful team just going over to play for Barry Bowen as Belikin Wheels.

It was not fair, the stress the business combatants put on Pulu. He would visit me almost every morning at my #1 West Canal Street home, and so I had personal knowledge of his situation. Around this time, I had begun to eat at Pulu’s mom, Ma Luz, three or four blocks down the canalside from me, because Pulu’s older brother, Chef Ramon, and I were hanging out and roaming the streets together a lot.

Well, Barry Bowen got his way, and Pulu Lightburn became his star player. But when Pulu went away to study and play ball in Tennessee for a couple years, on his return to Belize Pulu formed his own team, using mostly ghetto youth, got the great Sir Andie to sponsor him, and beat Belikin Wheels. Barry Bowen took that personal, it seemed to me. I know that Sir Andie began to come under a lot of pressure, and Pulu began the journey to where he is today, and where Pulu is today is outside the mainstream of Belize City’s social and business life, a social and business life which is dominated in the old capital by the Barry Bowen business empire.

Supporting Pulu between 1975 and 1980, I began to experience strong feelings of deja vu, because I had been a prize boy (academics) in the respectable mainstream before I left here to study in 1965. After I returned to Belize, it gradually became evident that my profile had changed dramatically, and that I had become a villain for the same people who had once admired I. When you become a villain after being a hero, life becomes a very, very difficult ride, and the main thing, I think, is that you have to find a way not to become bitter. It is for sure you will experience bouts of bitterness, but you must always fight your way out of these emotional valleys.

We got a glimpse recently of how gifted Pulu Lightburn is, how much love he has for Belize’s youth, and how much the youth love him. Ideally, the mainstream should have all the resources available at his disposal for him to do great things with Belize’s youth, for Belize’s basketball. But, that is not where we are presently, and Pulu’s journey from hero to villain is a story which covers more than four decades.

Pulu and I drifted apart after I moved to King’s Park and began working with some neighborhood ‘ballers there in 1980. Homebuilders had won two titles in a row, 1979 and 1980, and for sure didn’t need me. But there is a game which is bigger than basketball, and that involves money and politics. Two political figures who had portrayed themselves as Pulu’s allies and admirers became Barry Bowen’s loyal subordinates in 1984. Call names, and I’m a-gonna whistle. In the words of Jah Art, one thing leads to another thing leads to another thing leads to the other thing … It is what it is.

I believe Pulu may have been a bit surprised at how much I “bigged him up” in my 2008 book – Sports, sin and subversion. I did that because I was there with him in 1975 when he was caught between two giants. The cruel reality in 1975, Pulu Lightburn was the grass trampled between the Bowen and Castillo elephants. Serious thing. (I have not even discussed in this column how they stabbed Pulu in his heart with the 1978 trip to Medellin.) Those of you who have seen what you believe were mistakes made by Clinton Pulu, at the very least you must know that there was a time when he was innocent, and then cold Babylon people began throwing him around like a rag doll. I understand your odyssey, Clinton Pulu. Keep on, keep on keeping on …

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Deshawn Swasey

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