Denominational religion is a very important matter in Belize. No matter how much of a sinner you may have been during your earthly life, when you are dead your relatives will take you to the Christian church where you were baptized or confirmed as a child, for funeral services to be conducted. Many times at funerals, the officiating cleric has to struggle to find good things to say about you, and what he ends up doing is turning his sermon or homily into a dire warning about the inevitability of death and the wages of sin, that dire warning being, of course, aimed at the mourners and survivors.
When our post-World War II generation was growing up in Belize City, there were four high schools attended by boys, two being all-male and two co-ed. There was St. Michael’s College, which was Anglican, and St. John’s College (SJC), which was Roman Catholic. Michael’s and SJC were all boys. Wesley College was Methodist and co-educational, and the youngest of the lot, Belize Technical College, established around 1952, was the only government high school back then, and also co-educational. (In the 1930s, there had been a St. George’s College, which was a combined effort of the Anglicans and the Methodists. Sometime in the 1930s, St. George’s split into Michael’s and Wesley.)
I don’t know when a heavy sports rivalry began among these high schools. For sure that rivalry was there in the early and mid-1960s, which is why what the SJC scholastic McElroy did during a baseball game between SJC and Wesley College was really weird. (See Sports, Sin, and Subversion, pg. 49). Later in the 1960s there was big time football and track-and-field rivalry among the city high schools.
After the anti-colonial force of the People’s United Party (PUP) had been split by a historic power struggle in 1956, a political vibe entered the high school situation. This was because the parents of SJC students were mostly PUP, while the parents of Michael’s and Wesley students were generally anti-PUP.
On my father’s side, his parents had three sons. My father, the eldest, attended St. John’s College; the second son, James, Jr., went to St. Michael’s; and the last son, George Douglas, was a Wesley College grad. You can see that my paternal grandfather, James Bartlett Hyde, was not confined by considerations of denominational religion.
On my mother’s side, her father’s people were almost all Methodists, as is my mother. When she married my Roman Catholic father in 1946, she had to promise to raise all the children of her marriage as Roman Catholics, which she did.
As a child at Holy Redeemer Boys School, I was a pretty good Catholic, and began serving Mass at the Holy Redeemer Church and sometimes the St. Catherine Academy (SCA) chapel when I was about 10 or 11. The chief of the acolytes at that time was Frank Panton, but our leader was James Usher, whom everyone called “Jamesie.” Jamesie’s mother cooked for PUP Leader George Price on Pickstock Street, and their home may have actually been in Mr. Price’s Yard. (If not, it was just behind it.) But, Jamesie was a mischievous guy, maybe even iconoclastic, and a stud. As leader of us acolytes, one time he called on me to run in an election for officers because he wanted to humble one of Mr. Price’s nephews. Why Jamesie came up with this wicked idea, I can’t say, but once he tabbed me as a candidate, I couldn’t refuse: Jamesie was the boss. I will give you the details of that story some day.
Anyhow, I continued as a pretty good Catholic once I began St. John’s College in 1959, and I was a member of the Sodality there when Fr. Thomas Donovan, S.J., informed me that it was his belief that God wanted me to be a priest. This was in late 1962 or early 1963, and I was fifteen years old, if I remember correctly, and I had no such belief as the one Fr. Donovan had. In fact, becoming a priest was the last thing I would have wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be like my maternal uncle, Buck Belisle. Fr. Donovan’s self-assured statement troubled me greatly, and I remember that I went to Fr. John Stochl, S.J., who was in charge of the Extension Department upstairs of the Melhado building on the southwestern side of the Swing Bridge. His counsel was a calming one. I have forgiven Fr. Donovan for his excess of religious zeal: I am sure he thought he was doing the right thing for me and for the Church.
Anyway, eight or nine of us from the S.J.C. high school graduating class of December 1963, began the SJC Sixth Form courses in January of 1964. In our high school senior year, we had been joined by Vance Vernon, and his younger brother, Lennox, from Punta Gorda, and the two Vernon brothers went on with us to Sixth Form, where we were joined by another Punta Gorda student, Marion Paulino. A Garifuna, Marion Paulino became my best friend at Sixth Form.
I think I was still at Holy Redeemer when had met older Garifuna students at a hostel the priests had built on the New Road side of the Holy Redeemer School campus. These students had been brought in from the Southern Districts (Stann Creek and Toledo) to attend SJC. They included Harry Servio, Greg Arana, and Callistus Cayetano. I think John Young, from Roaring Creek, also lived in that hostel.
I believe that while I was attending SJC, Servio and Greg played on the SJC football team which used to compete in the senior competition in Belize City. Greg was not a superior football player, but he was a great guy. And when I landed at Wesley College as a teacher for the 1971/72 school year, I ran into Greg again. He was teaching there, as was his wife, Miss Agnes, nee Martinez. Greg and I became very good friends then, a friendship which lasted until his untimely death at the young age of 42.
My father has explained to me that the championship All-Star team on which he played around the end of World War II and afterwards, was an amalgamation of star players from all the Belize City high schools. I suppose this was how my dad, an SJC Roman Catholic, became lifelong friends with Mr. Telford Vernon, a St. Michael’s College Anglican. I will ask my father to write of this All-Star experiment, because I think it was the only exception to the rule, before my time, where the separation of Belizean youth was taking place along religious denomination lines.
The exception to the religious separation rule which took place in my youth, was the “Righteous” experiment at the high school and post-high school level from 1963 to 1965, say. From my perspective on the fringe of the group, the high school leaders were Norman Fairweather, originally from Michael’s, and Technical College’s Cecil “Chubby” Reneau. Many of the Righteous were SJC students, however – Steve Tillett, Dennis Henry, Frederick Lewis, etc. The godfather/organizer of the Righteous was Kevurtis “Budu” Anderson, who was not in school. (After Hurricane Hattie in 1961, Norman’s parents had sent him to school in Jamaica. He had attended Michael’s before that.)
When Norman Fairweather returned to Belize from Brooklyn in early 1971 and joined UBAD, I already knew, because of the Righteous, that he was a natural star and leader. So, I gave him space. Norman’s Righteous years had shown that he was not concerned about religious denomination lines, even though his family was such a high ranking one in the Anglican Church and social world.
All these thoughts have risen in my mind because of the incredible picture of the 1950 SJC football team which appeared in the recent issue of Amandala. First thing I thought, how could a photograph which is 63 years old have this level of clarity? To repeat, a stunning, incredible picture! In my mid-week column, I will discuss the photograph in detail, Inshallah.
For now, what I want to say is that during the UBAD years I came to think that Anglican young men in the black-conscious world viewed me with some skepticism. I do not include Norman in this: he was Righteous. (The only Catholic UBAD officer I can remember was Arturo Rosado.) As the years went by, I became even more convinced that my SJC background with the Jesuits had caused my Anglican contemporaries to wonder if I was for real. Well, perhaps they were right to be skeptical. After 44 years of sometimes bitter dispute between myself and Jesuit SJC because of what I saw as curriculum inadequacies, Jesuit SJC has taken the lead in introducing African and Indigenous Studies in their high school curriculum.
The 1950 photograph shows that of the starting SJC football team that year, seven were Garifuna youth. Some of these Garifuna youth went on to become legends in Belize’s religious, business, education, and activist world. We will discuss some of this next week.
Power to the people.