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Last Saturday I had a most exciting and exhilarating experience. I spoke to a group of youth, all under the age of 13. They were young footballers from Sandy Point and Conaree. They were preparing for their first match in the under-13 competition sponsored by National Bank.

These were special under–13s. They were attentive and alert. They caught me by surprise and I was pleasantly taken aback to find myself in the company of youngsters like these who displayed such discipline and maturity.

I was very happy that I did not miss that occasion and as I reflected after I had finished speaking and wished them good luck on their match, I thought of the great work which some caring adults had done on these lads to produce such fine youngsters.

The match at Conaree was one of several matches involving young boys from around the island. All the villages as well as Sandy Point were involved and from each area there was a support group of adults who oversaw the activities.

At Conaree Juliet Gumbs of National Bank was present to see that the match was played and that it was preceded by my talk. She was persistent that I should speak – insisting that it was designated a must by the Bank.

What intrigued me as I spoke to these youngsters was that it seemed that they had heard everything I was saying already. When I spoke of teamwork their eyes sparkled with acquaintance with the concept. When I told them that they had to respect their opposing side, they agreed.

They understood what I was talking about when I told them that sports will help them to achieve personal development, and they were receptive of the story of outstanding Kittitians who reached the heights from the first rung of the ladder, sports.

I related the story of Hesketh Benjamin, a well known lawyer who had not gone to high school; who started his working life as a messenger and who played cricket so well that he represented St. Kitts, the Leeward Islands and the Leeward-Windwards in the game.

Cricket gave him pride and self esteem and helped him get a job as magistrate’s clerk. He also acquired ambition took evening classes passed his GCE’s and went to university to study law.

I told the lads that they had good examples of past sportsmen to follow. I also told them how lucky they were to be appearing at a match all equipped for the game. They were amused at my recall of my own youth when I played football with a soft breadfruit, barefooted.

I told them of the lads from College Estate Yard who became the best windball footballers. I told them about College Estate which was swallowed up in the airport expansion. The ground was extremely rocky. The boys were barefooted, and the ball was a windball with which we also played bat-and-ball. These handicaps were no impediment to the development of skills, however, and the College boys who had grown up kicking wind-balls among stones became a leading football team in the Park.

They were lucky in another significant way. Sitting with them and standing around them were adults, their coaches and assistant coaches. There were also a few females. It was almost like a family, two families, in which the youngsters were parented.

I imagined how these supporting adults must have immersed themselves in the grooming and preparation of these young boys. They were as eager and excited as the lads, their eyes shone as brightly as the lads. I thought the boys were really lucky in their adult support staff.

I was reminded of when I was growing up, when Mr. Ivan Clarke and Mr. Verner John were active in the promotion and development of sport among boys. Clarke was a Social Welfare Officer who had the rare discernment that the engagement of youthful boys in sport would produce good men.

His pet sports were cricket and table tennis and he loved to play draughts. He established table tennis clubs in almost every village in St. Kitts and every area of Basseterre wherever he could find a room large enough to hold a board.

He formed cricket clubs around the island, co-opting the help of young men who could find the time to engage with the youth after school.

I have memories of Mr. Clarke. One of the young activists who helped him was a new arrival to Basseterre from Dieppe Bay Verner John.

Verner John attended the Methodist Church, actively engaged in youth activities and from his home at Bakers Corner naturally gravitated to Warner Park. There he became a willing volunteer for Mr. Clarke who was convinced that a cricket competition between small boys on the grass would be a way to keep the lads out of the juvenile court.

Many boys of those days owed their crime-free lives to the intervention of Clarke and John and a few lads from Basseterre took the grassroots cricket to the next level and became outstanding island players, building a life of respectability upon the foundations of the game.

My modern day Ivan Clarke is Peter Jenkins, president of the St. Kitts-Nevis Football Association. Peter Jenkins had an athletic past which included officer-training in Guyana preceded by a successful run between the goal posts of Warner Park.

He was obviously earmarked for command of the Defense Force but preferred to study engineering and understudy his father Edred Jenkins, a local building contractor and funeral undertaker.

Notwithstanding his professional pursuits however, he kept in touch with the world of athletics and eventually became president of the Football Association.

For Jenkins the Football Association was a living organism which pulsated with young men whose lives could be affected by the right approach.

About ten years ago he and his colleagues decided to use football to develop the young men of Basseterre and the country areas. It took much trial and error to find the right way, but Peter persisted, raised St. Kitts football to the level of respectability, produced proud young men who represent St. Kitts all over the world, and has now become the National Daddy of young footballers ten, eleven and twelve years old.

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