“Songshine was a kind of miracle. I was lucky enough to be part of making it happen.” — Gillian Moor
Happy New Year! May I humbly suggest that every citizen make but one resolution, namely “to do what you know is right all day every day”—that should cover every sin in the book and more importantly, set our beloved country back on track. Politicians must act instead of talk and make sure their actions are meaningful and not full of frills.
It was interesting to hear the Queen in her Christmas address refer to the importance of sport in helping youth achieve their life goals, and I will try to refresh memories on how and why the Wes Hall Youth Cricket League was formed in 1967 and the long lasting influence it had on this nation’s young cricketers, north, south, east and west.
Those of us who worked at WITCO in the 1965-75 decade probably never had a more enjoyable job, when company pride was at its peak. Local sponsorship had only just started and WITCO took the lead in everything—the Despers with Rudolph Charles and George Yates up the hill in Laventille; Benson and Hedges Premium Stakes; Broadway 40 over competition; launching “Life” cigarettes with Miss England leading the promotion—and several other initiatives which made us the envy of all.
In 1965, Marketing Director Neil Davy asked me to form a national cricket league and after much discussion, we drew up a format involving six geographical areas, naming each after leading cricketers—for example Clifford Roach, Joey Carew, Charlie Davis, Learie Constantine, Gerry Gomez and Rupert Tang Choon.
We were all set to go in 1966, when Jeff Stollmeyer, a WITCO Director, advised that after the 1966 West Indies tour to England, he had engaged famous fast bowler Wes Hall on a three year WITCO contract to improve the standard of youth cricket in T&T.
After several meetings between senior WITCO officials like Martin Scott, Audley Walker, David Daniel and Clive Pantin of Fatima College, it was decided to streamline the previous plan geographically and name the zones North, North East, East, Central, South and South West and we appointed Zone Chairmen such as Eustace Draper, Messrs Rajah and Bajnath and Willie Guadeloupe who were known for their organisational ability.
It was also decided that the youth league would start in July 1967 and we would use late 1966/early 1967 to scout talent across the country and record the most promising batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers in the 15 to 17 years age group. Hundreds turned out for the screening sessions dressed in immaculate white. I was delighted to be appointed the co-ordinator of the talent search and for several months, Wes and I left WITCO at 2.30 pm to screen players at the various venues which were advertised well in advance.
So the FIRST THREE LESSONS for success are (a) engage a well accepted “big name” for credibility; (b) ensure top notch planning and organisation for credibility and (c) keep promises you make to the public and the youngsters in particular, for credibility. “Credibility” is king!
When people believe your word, you are away to the races. If we said we would be at a venue at 4 pm with cricket equipment, we had to be there—my biggest challenge was getting Wes to be anywhere on time since he liked to chat with everyone under the sun, but he understood the importance of credibility and we were never more than five minutes late.
In this national screening programme we “discovered” the likes of Dudnath Ramkeesoon, Richard Gabriel, Keith d’Heureux, Randall Lyon, Anil Rajah, Nirmal Nanan, Ranjie Nanan, Boya Sahadeo, Stephen and Gregory Gomez, Theo Cuffy, “Cocky” Collins, Sarran Coonai, Steven deVerteuil, Alec Burns, Chris Galt, Stanley Hunter, Kumar Siew, Gopaul Sahadeo, Mario Affonso, Kevin Grimes, Edward Daniel, Mickey Reece, “Twiggy” Ramourtarsingh and the four Gomes brothers from Arima to name a few from memory and helped confirm the promise of Inshan Ali, Raphick Jumadeen, Bernard Julien and Oscar Durity who were slightly older.
What a cricket goldmine!
When all these boys and more were placed in their respective zones, the competition to make a zonal team was fierce and someone like Ranjie Nanan, despite his talent, caught his tail to make the Central XI.
Wes fuelled that enthusiasm with his ongoing coaching sessions across the country. NEXT LESSON: healthy competition and attractive reward systems like Man of the Match medals (then a novelty) bring out the best in youth. Each year WHYCL was played on Sundays in June and July so there was often rain to cope with.
However, what made everything work was the fantastic teamwork of WITCO’s Marketing department who volunteered without pay to drive players from their home base to where they were due to play; wait for the game to be played and then drive them back home.
For example, three cars would be in Arima at a specific time to take the East team to Point Fortin and wait there to bring them home. This worked like clockwork every year for the six Sundays involved. Furthermore, if a wicket was rain affected, we would roll, cover and uncover the pitch along with the boys.
NEXT LESSON: lead by example! A key component of the League’s success was the catering firm of Wilfred Robinson which provided a nice lunch at each venue promptly on time. No-one ever doubted that lunch would arrive.
NEXT LESSON: always be reliable no matter what!
I could go on and on with the details that made WHYCL the success it was for the next five or six years—on a budget of under $5,000 a year—but a very meaningful innovation was to persuade the media to print the scoreboards of each match every Monday which they did without fail. This meant that the players, their families and friends as well as their communities could not wait to see their names in print, so the FINAL LESSON for today is “motivate and recognise performance”.
I have no space to write about the BWIA-sponsored tours to Barbados and Jamaica in 1969 which caused every WHYCL player to “bust a gut” to make those teams—give them a goal to aim at—or the WITCO Sports Foundation summer scholarships to Sussex County Club in England for Sheldon Gomes, Randall Lyon, Keith d’Heureux, Richard Gabriel and Dudnath Ramkeesoon in 1971 and Chris Galt and Raphick Jumadeen a year later along with contracts for Larry Gomes (Middlesex) and Boya Sahadeo and Nirmal Nanan (Notts).
Hopefully, those who may be looking for a few ideas or guidelines to get a sport development plan going, may reflect on the Wes Hall league of many moons ago and consider some of the factors that influenced T&T youth and senior cricket teams for many years after its inauguration.
All the best!