Western Grandstand: Violence hurting sports in western Jamaica
Sport, which is universally accepted as a unifying force, is one of the facets of life that has been taking a mega battering in western Jamaica on account of the spine-chilling violence, which has claimed over 500 lives between the parishes of St James, Westmoreland, and Hanover since the start of the year.
In a recent interview with Gina Haughton, the president of the St James Netball Association, she was agonising over the fact that while her organisation was quite anxious to do all it can to develop the sport in the parish, their efforts were being blunted by the fear of violence, which is keeping many players away from the various training courts.
When one looks at the way St James' netball has transformed the lives of several players, to include national players Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and Carla-Lee Tingling, and even Haughton, who is now an accomplished educator at the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College, one cannot help but conclude that the violence is wrecking chances to create opportunities for the advancement of our young people.
Netball is just one of many sports that are suffering because of the violence. Football is also taking a colossal beating, as many of its promising young talents have abandoned the game and have embraced the gangster life, which many mistakenly see as the fast lane to prosperity, especially those who have turned to lottery scamming.
In speaking to the decline in Westmoreland's football, Everton Tomlinson, the president of the Westmoreland Football Association, said that it pains his heart whenever he hears of any youngster who was involved in football being killed in the various gangland conflicts, because he knows that some of them had the potential to go a far way in the game.
In fact, Tomlinson's unrelenting drive to create a modern sports complex at the association's Llandilo location is being driven by his desire to create new opportunities for the youngsters who he would like to see develop and make a career out of the sport. He has even made it clear that he intends to win back some of the youngsters who have fallen by the wayside because of gang affiliation.
Like Haughton in St James, Tomlinson has benefited from doors being opened for him through football. After starting out at St Elizabeth Technical High School via a football scholarship, he went on to represent Reno FC and Wadadah FC in National Premier League football. At the end of his playing career, he went to England, where he earned his coaching licence. Since his return to Jamaica, he has been an integral part of football administration at the parish, confederation, and national level.
In Hanover, the home parish of reigning daCosta Cup champions, Rusea's High School, the parish 2016/17 daCosta Cup football season was in doubt for a long time, as the various teams expressed fear about travelling away from their communities because of the violence which was rocking the parish at the start of the year. In the end, the parish's football association had to settle with only special venues, where they could guarantee police presence.
As for St James, places like Jarrett Park, where triple-headers on Friday nights in the 1980s were a regular feature which saw fans from all over the parish coming out in their thousands to watch 'ball roll,' sometimes until as late as midnight, are now the battlegrounds where gangsters trade bullets daily.
In fact, except for possibly Somerton and a few other deep rural communities, even corner leagues, which were once a staple of life all over the parish, have now become a thing of the past, as gangsters have been using these events to settle their differences, resulting in several instances of innocent bystanders being shot and killed at match venues.
As persons like Haughton and Tomlinson continue to seek out creative ways to give back to the sports that have helped to elevate them in life, I am just hoping that the authorities will ultimately find a way to address the crime problem, so that future generations can get a taste of what life was like before it became tainted by the crime and violence now plaguing the west.