7th September, 2014
Dear Mr. Publisher,
Your analysis of one of the root causes of the crime and violence on the Southside of Belize in your “From the Publisher’s” column of 7th September, 2014 was timely and on point. Indeed as I was reading your column, there was a news flash of another Southside youth being gunned down. The lack of competitive sports as a positive outlet for our youth is causing the “savagery” we are witnessing in our Southside, as pointed out in a previous editorial in the Amandala.
I recall coaching an Under-14 and Under-17 basketball team from Queen’s Square in the PRYH basketball league in the 1994 and 1995 seasons. This was thanks to the late Juliet Soberanis, who sponsored the teams and who was the PUP standard bearer for Queen’s Square, having contested the 1993 general elections in that constituency against Hon. Dean Barrow.
The games were held in the evenings at the then PRYH compound and basketball court (now the Maud Williams High School) on Dolphin and Racoon Streets adjacent to the Racoon Street Police Station. Imagine, youths from all over the city converging at one spot, at night and there were no incidences of violence or reprisals.
The tournament’s driving force was the late Mr. Wilton Cumberbatch. He was a fierce disciplinarian and instilled discipline and respect through sports; something regrettably lacking in many of our Southside youth. The organizers were Mr. Peters, Mr. Panton, Mr. Ramsey, Mr. Clarke and others who worked at the PRYH at the time.
As you pointed out, the PRYH basketball system provided an opportunity for “high school youths and street youths” to compete against each other. This was important as there existed the annual high school basketball competition that would have seen the likes of Evan “Duck” Garnett, Eldrid Neal, Selwyn “Macadoo” Mcdonald, Maino Bevans, Bart Sanchez and Darren Bovell to name a few. They had the opportunity to showcase their skills and physical prowess as high schoolers at Birds Isle and Civic Centre and many of these players later starred in the semi-pro basketball league of the 1990s.
But what of the city youths who were not as academically inclined and not in school? Some program had to be in place to address them, otherwise, they would be lulled into a world of crime at an even earlier age if a positive alternative was not there, for they had skills as well and wanted their physical prowess to be noted too. This is what youth is about. This is what this PRYH basketball league provided, without perhaps the organizers realizing the depth of the public service that they were providing to the communities, society and the country.
I remember that the now feared boss of George Street participated in this PRYH basketball league. He was a youth of 16 or 17 years in 1994/5. He had great basketball skill and was a fantastic rebounder. But when the league ceased, so too did his basketball days and I suppose, his dreams of being incorporated in a formal system in which he could shine.
There will be some who will say that the problems of Southside are ours alone and may not see the need to lend a hand to us and contribute in our fight to ameliorate our situation. But experience has shown that when the problems of the Southside go unchecked, it spreads. We are witnessing that today. We all therefore must do our part to find a way to reincorporate a program such as the PRYH basketball U-14 and U-17 league back on the Southside; of course, there will have to be some tweaking of the program given the present gang realities.