We are into the exciting season of athletics. It is a time when our children demonstrate their prowess and promise on the track and field at the National Primary Schools Athletics Championships (NAPSAC) and the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletics Championship (BSSAC).
Several of those who have passed through these nurseries have gone on to represent Barbados at regional and international meets with varying degrees of distinction. Others have received athletics scholarships and whether they remained in that sporting discipline or not, their academic opportunities have been used as a means of upward mobility.
And the same can be said for other sporting disciplines. Several of the outstanding young cricketers who came through the Herman Griffith Primary Schools Tournament and other age group competitions, have used their talents in leagues at various levels in England to enhance their lives. Others have scaled greater heights to represent the region at the international level. Others have found their expression in football, hockey and tennis, among other sports. In most instances the genesis of their achievements has been at the junior levels where their skills were initially recognized and encouraged.
Sport is an avenue that has provided immeasurable opportunities to many Barbadians at home and abroad. To the credit of successive governments and institutions such as the National Sports Council, the Barbados Olympic Association and several other local associations, young men and women with talent have been able to pursue their dreams through the assistance and initiative of these agencies. And several of our politicians, past and present, perhaps as their means of endearing themselves to communities across the island, have facilitated the pursuit of sporting opportunities by their young constituents at their personal expense.
About two decades ago a boy of 11 years old graced a number of cricket fields across the island in the Herman Griffith Tournament. He instantly set knowledgeable tongues wagging from St Lucy to St Michael. He reeled off a number of fifties, a couple centuries and whenever he did so he batted with a casual, elegant flair that evoked images of a Lawrence Rowe or a Sir Frank Worrell. Supporters flocked to arenas wherever his school was scheduled to play. Some stuffed local currency into his pockets after a particularly pleasing stroke or after his reaching a landmark. Supporters of his urban school cheered him. Opponents of the school cheered him. The young man was surely destined for great things, it seemed. Then the tournament ended.
Twenty-years later and the boy, now a young man, appeared on a “wanted” police bulletin. And the question that immediately arises is: what went wrong? What occurred between his fledgling years of glorious possibilities on the field and his depressing image on an impersonal wanted poster? When did his spring of hope turn into a winter of despair?
We do not have the answers to his specific case but he is symbolic of a famous quote from a 1993 feature film that said: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”
Several questions must be asked, not necessarily about this lost soul’s specific case, but about all of our talented youth who seemingly have the world at their feet but somehow fall by the wayside. What and where are the support systems – family and otherwise – to nurture all those special talents? Are our social systems not capable of getting back on track an 11-year-old, 12-year-old or 15-year-old whose abilities are above average? Do we give up on our young people too quickly or are we unprepared to go that extra mile to rescue a lost but possibly reachable soul? Is it easier to deal with the adult felon than the troubled adolescent?
We acknowledge that only in a perfect world would every special talent reach full potential. We also acknowledge that we cannot save them all. But we must also acknowledge that any nation will be the poorer when special talents do not meet productive maturation. Small countries like ours can ill-afford such wastage of our greatest assets – our young people.
And there are many like this young man whose opportunities are now gone. We will never know if the world was denied another Frank Worrell, Brian Lara or Viv Richards. His is but another anonymous name who will only be remembered as associated with teenage and adult deviancy and whose spring has long turned into winter. The stories of these lost youth could possibly have been so much different with a bit more effort, tolerance and attention from someone, anyone, everyone, out there.