Uninvited, I am writing this column on behalf of two of my good friends, Sidney “Stretch” Lightburn and Tony Wright, and my younger brother, Nelson. These are people who held the late Denton “Sharkey” Fairweather in the greatest of respect and esteem. Stretch was a basketball teammate of Sharkey’s, and Nelson played football under Sharkey’s leadership with the BEC football team. Tony Wright grew up in the Plaza area, for lack of a better description, where BEC (and Sharkey, by extension) was the team which teenaged boys supported.
Before Hurricane Hattie in late October of 1961, basketball seasons used to be played at the old Holy Redeemer Parish Hall. After the hurricane, there was a season played at the Holy Redeemer tennis court and one played at the St. John’s College gymnasium. I’m not sure if basketball moved to the St. Ignatius basketball court in 1964 or 1965 (definitely by 1965).
In writing this column over the decades, I have been guilty of a Belize City bias. I was born and raised in Belize City, and we took a lot of things for granted in the old capital which I realize nowadays would have been sources of resentment for those who grew up in the district towns and villages.
In colonial days, before self-government in 1964, let’s say, one third of the population lived in Belize City, and all the administrative, financial, cultural and other power resided in the old capital. Before self-government, we assumed that the districts could not compete with the city (except for Cayo and Stann Creek in football), and definitely not in basketball.
I definitely believe there was resentment in places like Orange Walk when my dad was in charge of organizing a Hall of Fame at the National Sports Council and almost all the nominees were from Belize City. But, the reality was that in the 1930’s and 1940’s, even the 1950’s, Belize City ruled. Cold like that.
About two or three years ago, a friend of mine named Roland Bevans, whom I know through the Willie Wagner family, took me to see Sharkey. He had come home after maybe four or more decades in the United States, and was living alone on Fabers Road, up where it leads into Waight Street and Caesar Ridge Road.
The last time I had seen Sharkey before that, which was the aforementioned four decades or more ago, I had run a joke with him which he did not take well. But when I mentioned the little misunderstanding, he passed it off and said how glad he was to see me. He was suffering from diabetes. Some months afterwards, Roland told me Sharkey had gone to live in Lord’s Bank.
And it was in Lord’s Bank, a village just past Ladyville, that this Belizean basketball and football icon passed a few days ago, in isolation and anonymity. It should not have been that way. Sharkey Fairweather had been a legend in The Jewel. Stretch is in Canada, and when I e-mailed the news to him, he took it hard. He took it really hard.
There’s a larger issue here. It has to do with some realities of sports in Belize, and it has to do with the history of my generation. But, I don’t preach that much any more, you know. All I will say, again, is that this is not the way Sharkey should have gone out. He was too great for that.
Rufus X’s late father used to be a ranking foreman/supervisor at the BEC camp headquarters in Gallon Jug, which I believe is in the Orange Walk District. Gallon Jug was the center of BEC’s forestry operations, which extracted hardwoods for export to the United Kingdom and the United States.
The fact that I have never been to Gallon Jug means that my knowledge of the country which I claim to love so much is limited. All we city youth knew of BEC was their office headquarters and lumber yard at the corner of North Front Street and Mapp Street, and from time to time we saw them float their logs, chained together, down the Haulover Creek to the port, which used to be at what we called Fort Point.
Our Belizean generation was tragically uneducated about our own history and reality, and it has never been explained by our “educational authorities” why this was so. Just as we knew absolutely diddly about the bloody Caste War which was so critical where our country’s history since the second half of the nineteenth century is concerned, we didn’t know anything about BEC, its long reach from the capital to the countryside, its inner workings, how it affected the lives of us Belizeans and how it had affected the lives of our ancestors.
Sharkey should not have gone out like this, lonely and anonymous. He had been too great for that. As a people, we have failed to take care of ourselves and our own. Uninvited, I have written on behalf of my two friends and my younger brother. But, I join them in mourning. Sharkey was Belize.
Power to the people.