BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 10, 2020– When you start talking with an old timer, a legend in Belize sports, you don’t exactly know where you are heading; the conversation takes twists and turns, and what seemed simple at first, starts becoming more complicated; and soon you find that you need to understand and explain a lot more to get a complete picture and wholesome background to events that unfolded, and eventually became, as we sometimes say, “the stuff of legends.”
Wilfred “Paama” Davis, the legendary Belizean sportsman (football/basketball/baseball), was not born inside the Jewel. He was already a young adult, concedes Paama, when the true facts, concealed from him by his parents, were revealed about the circumstances of his early childhood.
Fred Davis and his sister, both “Waika” (Miskita) Indians of Nicaragua, had run away from home when Fred was 13 or 14 years old, as Paama understands it. (Indeed, as a boy Paama remembers them reverting back to their Waika language when needing to speak to each other confidentially.)
It is not clear whether Fred spent some growing up years in Belize City, before moving further north to the USA. (There is a Davis Bank in Belize, and another well-known Davis family with many brothers, including retired footballer Raymond Davis, but Paama couldn’t confirm if he had any blood relation to them.)
May Gordon, Paama’s mother, was born and raised in Belize City, residing at 849 Eve Street.
The circumstances and timing of their meeting is still not clear, but Paama explains that he was born in Mobile, Alabama, USA on July 29, 1941, to parents Fred Davis and May Gordon (Davis). (His mother, May, has since passed away at 96 years of age.)
About a year after the US became directly involved in World War II (The U.S. had officially entered the war “after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.” – Wikipedia), the couple left with their young child, Wilfred, then a year and four months old, and came to the home town of his mother, May, where Wilfred grew into his young adult years in Belize City.
Paama attended Queen Street Baptist primary school, where his teammates on the school football team included Nelson “The Roo” Robinson, Donald Welcome and Claude “Razor” Robinson (who later became Belize City MVP around 1967 or ‘68).
Attending Ebenezer Methodist primary school at the time were Paama’s friends, Louis “Mugger” Garbutt, Gilbert “Pine” Hernandez and Gilbert “Chico” Ellis, Jr., along with players Paama recalls only as “String” and “Straw”.
Both their rival in the Belize City primary schools competition was the St. Mary’s Anglican team (with the Brannon brothers?).
At fourteen years of age, young Paama Davis caught the eye of prominent footballer (coach?), Roy Flowers of senior team Diamond-A. At the time, which would be around 1955, Paama was the goalkeeper for a junior team named Gordos that included his past schoolmates, String and Straw. Flowers wanted to recruit the young Paama for Diamond-A senior, but Paama’s mother thought he was still too young.
Eventually, Paama did make the move to become goalkeeper for the senior Diamond-A.
Meanwhile, Paama spoke of a “Spanish” Dunlop junior team, sponsored at the time by a businessman located upstairs of a building next to the Police Station (which sounds like Gonzalo Quinto & Sons?). The players were mostly of Hispanic descent, insists Paama, and they didn’t fare well in the competition.
As Paama recalls, he was the goalkeeper for the senior Diamond-A when they won the 1957-58 season in Belize City. Meanwhile, that same year, the junior Dunlop team had taken on a new look, with many of his friends from primary school days now making up the Dunlop squad, and they were a sensation in the junior competition. They had been asking him to join with them, but he had decided to stay with the senior Diamond-A for that season.
However, when the regular season was over, and Diamond-A was senior champions, the undefeated junior champions, Dunlop decided to enter the traditional post-season knockout in the senior division.
And in that historic senior knockout, Paama said he joined his boyhood friends to keep goal for Dunlop, which played a sensational series of draw games against the much bigger Diamond-A. Paama says that Dunlop eventually won that knockout series, but we have to confirm that.
Paama also spoke about a visiting team (from Honduras) named “Aduana” that had beaten everybody, until a selection comprising players from Dunlop, Diamond-A and a few others, with Paama as goalkeeper, managed to beat the visitors, 2-1. Again, the manager of the visiting team wanted to take then 17-year-old Paama with them to Honduras, but he declined the offer.
What needs no confirmation, though, is that in the following senior season, Dunlop, with Paama in goal, proved to be the “cream of the crop” in Belize City football, as they won the 1958-59 season.
That’s a lot of achievement for a young footballer! Paama was just 18 years old and already a back-to-back senior football champion with two different teams. And he wasn’t over yet.
Sports in Belize is an interesting subject; it is more than sports, much more; and as Evan X Hyde discusses in his classic, “Sports, Sin and Subversion,” many decisions made by top quality athletes in Belize are more about economic survival, than what appears to fans as just “love of sports.”
The case of the dismantling of the champion Dunlop team is a good example. Unemployed, with limited education, from poor families, but now champions “of their world,” the young men were driven, not by the sporting dream of a back-to-back title, but by the economic opportunity that their new status in the sport had opened up for them. First, a few of the top stars on Dunlop accepted job offers with the giant BEC company, and soon other players followed; and just like that, the “intercontinental ballistic missiles” became the new powerhouse in Belize City football. Dunlop stars that made the transition to BEC (some for only a year) included captain Gilbert “Pine” Hernandez, Ernest “Reds” Wilson, Gilbert “Chico” Ellis, Louis “Mugger” Garbutt and Wilfred “Paama” Davis. (See page 11 of Sports, Sin and Subversion.) The record books have BEC as champion in 1960-61 and 1961-62, the latter, due to Hurricane Hattie on October 31, 1961, being only a Knockout. So, from a broad historical perspective, BEC was the last football champion in before-Hattie Belize, and the first football champion in the after-Hattie Belize City competition. (Landivar reportedly won the 1959-60 season, in which goalkeeper Charlie Gardiner said he was MVP.)
There are still a lot of loose ends to tie up in his spectacular sporting journey, but it has been a bumpy ride getting to talk with Paama, who now resides in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. Aside from being expensive, (we can’t communicate by Whatsapp or Messenger), on the rare occasion when I have reached him, he is either on the road making deliveries with his daughter, or otherwise in an inconvenient situation for conversation.
Someday, we may be able to provide more in this very interesting saga, but for now we must be satisfied with knowing that the post-Hattie Belize had changed quite a bit in two years, by the time Paama returned in 1964. He was employed at a number of posts for the next decade, including the Paramilitary Special Force #2 and Civil Aviation at the airport, before returning in late 1974 (or early 1975?) to reside until now in the US at Little Rock, Arkansas. The decade in Belize following his return was not spectacular for Paama, as many of his former teammates on Dunlop and BEC were also in the process of migrating to the US. So, whether due to job posting inconveniences, or not attracted by the new crop of ballers, the still-young veteran Paama apparently withdrew from the football scene; except for a few appearances in the early 1970s with a new Diamond-A (1973-74) and BDF (1974-75), before making what has proven his permanent move to the US.