By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
Just three days before the BVI Athletics Association which was founded on September 19, 1970, celebrated its 50th anniversary, a third member of the very first team to compete off island, passed away.
Eric Matthias Sr., 65, died at his home on Sept 16. BVIAA founding member, its second president and its longest serving president Rey O’Neal, told Island Sun Sports about Matthias Sr. and that first team that competed in St. Croix in November, 1970.
“He was someone who would come out and not really trained doing laps around the track, but he was the only one we had who was going to run a ‘long race’ so we entered him in the 1500m with Dale Abrahamson and he also ran the 5000m,” O’Neal recalled. “He got third in the 5000m and after that, he didn’t really compete very much if at all and he sort of turned his attention to Softball shortly thereafter. He was a catcher with the Jets and was a pretty good catcher.”
Velma Warner and Cecil Dawson preceded their teammate Matthias.
“Velma was the fastest girl in the territory at the time, she ran the 100/200m and I think she came second in each of those races in St. Croix,” O’Neal noted. “Cecil Dawson—I considered him one of the best all round athletes if not the best that have come out of the BVI—he was the fastest guy we had. He was second in the 100m in St. Croix. I’m not sure if he ran the 200m but Mario “Sonny” Todman did. Abrahamson (800/1500m and who also played Softball and Cricket) and Gene Hodge (Shot Put/Discus Throw) were double winners. Hodge also led off the 4x100m Relay.
“Cecil was one of the four athletes in 1971 (including Abrahamson, Warner and Hodge) competing in Trinidad and did pretty well. Abrahamson got a bronze in the 800m in a pretty decent international field, so that was our first major achievement outside the Virgin Islands.”
Also on that first team to St. Croix, and is now the Supervisor of Elections, was Juliette Penn, who ran the 4x100m Relay along with Marva Mercer, Elva Jeffers and Warner.
Dr. Robert Mathavious, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the BVI Financial Services Commission competed in the High and Long Jump events.
“Robert was the best High Jumper we had in High School for a few years and he also broke the Long Jump record that stood for quite a while, which was held by Heraldo Todman,” O’Neal said. Todman was the 1957 and 1958 Virgin Islands Secondary School Victor Ludorum, competing for Bronte House. “Heraldo was the first athlete that I recalled who I think if circumstances had been different, could have been, certainly a regional and possibly an international class athlete. Robert played some Softball and competed in inter-house matches, but he was good.”
O’Neal pointed out another athlete on that team to St. Croix who many might not associate with track and field as he became a dominant pitcher with the Astros Softball team, was Elmore “The Equalizer” Connor, who won the High Jump.
Edwin “Boss” Hodge who played centerfield for the Jets and the BVI National team, O’Neal noted that he was a “useful Long Jumper, High Jumper and sprinter.”
Errol Blackman from Dominica who worked at Barclays Bank, was a good all-round athlete (400m, Shot Put, 4x400m Relay), so was Gerald Rose, (400m, Long Jump, 4x400m Relay) a BVI High School mathematics and chemistry teacher.
Most of the girls on that first team were quite young, O’Neal said. Marva Mercer “could do a bit of everything” (100/200m, Long Jump and 4x100m Relay). Jackie Richardson (400/800m). High Jumping sisters Urmin “Mucho” Richardson and Ramona Richardson—Urmin won the High Jump and Ramona was third.
O’Neal said Elva Jeffers (Long Jump/4x100m Relay) was an “unorthodox looking runner but somehow got from point A to point B, faster than most girls in the high school.”
That first team also included Shot Putter, Monica Martin.