By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
While athletes who reside abroad have been able to carry track and field on the international stage, their success has masked a major crisis facing the territory’s sports—Hurricane Irma’s impact its development.
A situation that was already bad by sports struggling with poor or inadequate facilities, have been brought to their knees by the Sept 2017 storm. A look around our communities and one doesn’t’ seen youngsters playing for the sheer joy of it. Organized youth programs in communities have been dormant before Irma and have become virtually extinct.
For Volleyball, Softball and Swimming, there have been no organized competitions since the 2017 seasons. What has Irma’s impact been on the development of these three sports? For starters, it has put them even further behind their regional counterparts and the impact will be felt further down the road as the territory participate in regional competitions.
“It has naturalized the program to a point where we don’t have a place for the locally based athletes to train,” BVI Swimming Federation president Elsworth Philip said. “For me, it’s a major disappointment because we had a very young and vibrant group of kids who were really interested in being developed to go on to further things as it relates to progressing in the sport. I’m still optimistic that something can be done, something will be done.”
While Prospect Reef has been destroyed, he said the pool is still in good condition. If the area is isolated and cleaned up, they can resume training. Phillip noted that a youngster who trained with him is now the top swimmer in Guyana.
“It’s just in my opinion, a testament to our little development program and giving the kids exposure to a sport and opportunities that they wouldn’t typically get,” he said. “I’m hoping that eventually, something can be done as far as getting our locally based program back up and running.”
When asked if it’s a major setback, Phillip said that even isn’t the word.
“There are so many opportunities for the kids, whether it’s St. Thomas, St. Croix, OECS, Carifta Games or Caribbean and Central American Championships, a lot of the locally based kids were looking for the opportunities some of our older more develop swimmers had, when we had access to the facility at Prospect,” he said. “Right now, we don’t so all we can do is wait.”
“It has been really devastating and it has slowed things down a lot and we’re trying to play catch up,” Softball Association president Terry “Chino” Chinnery said of his sport was the last sport to see action just three days before Irma lashed the territory with its fury. “In the different islands, the young kids are playing softball and we have to play catchup when we start again. It has been really devastating but, we’re trying to get back on track.”
Getting the fencing and backstop up Chinnery noted, is their biggest challenge.
“We’ve gotten the lights, but we need the fencing up because there’s a large outcry in the community for industrial and fast pitch softball.”
With no programs in place, Chinnery said he’s going into schools this year and trying to redevelop the sport and also work on developing to fill the as there’s no U23 players. His plan is to also have games within some of the school communities at the primary levels. He said many of the PE Teachers and other teachers are former softball players who he has spoken to about developing his plans.
“I don’t want to have a one-day tournament,” he said. “I want to have leagues and bring it back like it was back in the day.”
“Irma has really impacted Volleyball because our home base is the gym (Multipurpose Sports Complex), the building is hot and there are no windows that can be opened, so ventilation is bad,” association president Willis Potter noted. “We’ve taken to the beach, started in Brandywine Bay. Players came initially but have fallen off because Brandywine Bay is not a beach for swimming. We have a net on Beef Island that’s heavily used. Volleyball has also been severely, especially with sponsorships.”
Businesses he said that would normally have sponsored have cut back because they too have been hit by Irma. Those sponsorships he said, assisted with purchasing uniforms and facilitating travel to tournaments.
“It’s difficult to get to tournaments because raising funds has become more difficult—everybody is holding the purse strings tight as they try to rebuild,” he noted.
Potter said he’d like to see monies infused into sports as that area has been neglected in the territory and he feels sports needs to have its own ministry.
“There are so many things that we can do in sports, but monies need to be infused so our athletes can get good training and have better equipment,” he said. “We have been doing this for all these years and there’s no financial backing to propel sports forward. Other countries are putting money into sports, that’s why they compete at a higher level. If we want to compete at a higher level, we’ll have to put some money into sports.”
He added: “So Irma has really hit us hard. For one, it took away the gym in Belle Vue, which was one of the outlets for volleyball and the gym in town was impacted by the roof and AC going out. Right now, we want to run a league but it’s too hot in the gym. We can’t bring spectators because if they’re just sitting, the heat is killing you so, Irma has severely impacted volleyball.”
Regarding youth development, Potter said he has been on a campaign of giving balls to all the schools he said and any Phys Ed Teacher that need balls—anything where they can help to push the sport forward, they’ve been doing that.
“But, we need some help”, he said. “Our coaches have other jobs, have given their time freely and there’s no compensation—this has been done for years—so it’s difficult to keep going without some sort of backing. I take my truck everywhere and all the kids know it because I take them home. So what we need is some money infused in sports and we’ll be good.”