By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
Alexander. O. Shirley, one of the BVI’s sporting icons and the first sportsman to have a ground named in his honor, will be buried on Saturday, after passing away on Jan 4. He was 89.
After 54 years of unwavering commitment, sacrifice, and dedication to Cricket, he retired from the sport in January 1998. He returned to the helm of the BVI Cricket Association as the body’s fifth president exactly seven years after he ended an illustrious career as player, administrator and had the New Recreation Grounds renamed the A. O. Shirley Recreation Grounds in his honor, in June 1988.
With Shirley’s passing, BVI Cricket Association president Charlie Jackson said cricket has lost one of its true statesman, the territory too has lost an ambassador—not only for sport—but the whole country.
“In terms of cricket it’s a sad loss,” Jackson stated. “He was a very feared cricketer in his day for the Bucks and a revered administrator. He was the sort of man you know you could go and talk to about problems and get a fair and unbiased opinion on the best way forward. He dealt with honesty, integrity and will be sorely missed.”
Shirley a medium pace bowler who loved fielding began playing with the Jr. Cricket Club which eventually split into the Blitz and Atomics. After a further split, he landed with the Bucks and went on to win several league titles, over the Missiles.
In the late 60s, Shirley—who served as the BVI’s Accountant General from 1967 through his retirement in 1987 as part of 41 years in the public service—asked the Administrator about obtaining a piece of property for cricket, which eventually became the New Recreation Grounds. The sport was housed there for 36 years, before work began on putting down a 400 meters Mondo athletic facility in 2005. Softball was also played there from 1971-79.
Shirley was the BVICA secretary/treasurer for much of his tenure in the sport. He served with the association’s first president Carlton DeCastro, followed by Ivan “Skiper” Evans, Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal with whom he served as vice president before taking up a presidential stint in the 1980s. He was the secretary/treasurer during the Theodore Skeet administration when the Combined Virgin Islands entered the Leeward Islands Cricket Tournament in 1998 and played through 1990, before separate BVI and USVI teams entered the tournament in 1991.
He managed the BVI team in the Leeward Islands Cricket Association tournament, and served on the LICA Board between 1991 and 1998.
Shirley was the longest serving member of the BVI Recreation Trust, having been one of the original members serving as secretary/treasurer.
Following his 1998 retirement from Cricket, he was asked how he’d like to be remembered. After some thought, he said he’d like to remembered by his dedication and interest in the game. “I think I have made my fair share to the development of Cricket in the BVI,” he said. “I’ve toiled long, hard and sacrificed for this sport, a sport l dearly love and have given my all.”
Shirley’s son John, was a BVI Olympic Games sailor, having competed in Barcelona in 1992.
Just before Christmas, Jackson was telling Shirley about the plans for the sport and having teams playing for a shield bearing his name starting with the 2016 league.
However, Shirley who will be buried on Saturday afternoon won’t be on hand to fulfill Jackson’s wishes.
“He agreed we could name the league championships trophy after him,” noted Jackson. “From this season and going forward, there will be an A. O. Shirley Shield, which will be awarded to the league champions each and every year from now on. But, at the time, obviously, we were hoping he would be there to present it. It poignant now that we won’t be able to fulfill that ambition.”