The B.V.I. Amateur Athletics Association’s First 20 Years, by Reynold O’Neal

Prior to the formation of a National athletics governing body the British Virgin Islands had produced several outstanding track and field athletes, but in the absence of opportunities for outside competition their performances were largely unknown outside these shores.

A few were well known at the high school level in other Caribbean islands, including Cyril Romney who introduced the “Peas Soup” (scissors) style of high jumping to many of his future students; Bryan Penn, arguably the most talented all-around athlete produced by these islands, who starred for Charlotte Amalie High School in St. Thomas, as a sprinter and hurdler, as well as acquitting himself with distinction in other sports such as baseball, American football, softball and cricket.

There was also McWelling Todman Jr., “Quito”, a legend in football at The Lodge School in Barbados but also one of the leading sprinters in that island, in the early 1970’s.

At home track and field competition took place on two levels. There was the “Senior School” Inter-house competition with the teams involved being Aggrey, Bronte and Cavell Houses, and on Empire (later “Commonwealth”) Day the best primary and post -primary athletes met on the 220 yard track at the facility that would later be referred to as the ‘Old Recreation Grounds’. Now dedicated solely to softball and little league baseball, it formerly also was the center of activity for cricket and, to a much lesser extent, football.

The Inter-School event on Empire Day showcased athletes in several age groups but what was most highly anticipated, was the competition among the East End, West End, and Road Town Post-Primary athletes. Two of the standouts of those meets were Road Town’s Norris Scatliffe and Berenice Smith.
Scatliffe later became a softball standout, while Smith is still considered by many to have been the best pitcher ever in the Territory’s history.

At the secondary school level the leading lights often came from areas outside those that tended to dominate the Empire Day event. William Penn of Road Town made an early mark as a jumper, later to be superseded by Heraldo Todman, who lived virtually opposite the Recreation Ground. Todman became better known for his exploits in cricket and softball but certainly had the talent to have made a mark in regional track and field.

The outstanding male athlete of the later years of the Virgin Islands Secondary School came from the north side of the island and continued to be active in the sport off and on until the mid-1970’s. Cecil Dawson was the youngest boy in a very athletic family that also included Carl, a certain pick on any all-time B.V.I. cricket team, and Elvera (Dawson) Brathwaite, an excellent softball player and one of the fastest females of her era and mother and grandmother to a son and grandson who represented the territory at the Junior level in track and field.

Cecil’s game was speed and he was never beaten by another B.V.I. athlete in a short sprint. He was also an outstanding batsman in cricket and a versatile softball player.

Many of the leading female athletes at the V.I.S.S, also hailed from areas removed from the capital.

The most outstanding were Edris Christopher( O’Neal), Sandra Turnbul (Scatliffe) and Inez Hodge. Christopher, amassed an outstanding four consecutive Victrix Ludorum titles. Both she and Inez Hodge (later Archibald) would go on to represent the territory in softball, the sport provided an outlet for female track and field athletes whose sporting careers would otherwise end with their graduation.

Consequently the B.V.I.’s representative softball teams tended to be faster than their counterparts, boasting not only the aforementioned but also other speedy players like Eileene Parsons, a track star of an earlier era at Charlotte Amalie High School, and Annette Christopher, sister of Edris.
The last of the star female sprinters of the V.I.S.S. were Juliet Penn and Velma Warner, Penn joined male softballers Gene Hodge, Mario “Sonny” Todman, Elmo Connor, Edwin “Boss” Hodge and Dale Abrahamson as players from that sport who returned to the track when track and field became established.

In 1970 a group of teachers at the Virgin Islands High School, recognising the tremendous amount of untapped athletic talent around, set about attempting to get together a squad for training and also to create an administrative structure, in the hope that somewhere down the pike an Association would be formed. A steering committee was formed consisting of Government Sports Officer Horace Sailsman, Hubert Payne, Teny Erskine, as well as high school teachers Monica Martin, Rey O’Neal and Juno Samuels.

A practice area was identified on reclaimed land on what is now Wickhams Cay II. A 400 metre track was laid down using conduit pipes stapled together for the inside kerb.

A number of high school athletes, as well as other young men and women in their early 20’s had now been turning out with regular­ity. Fortunately a competitive opportunity presented itself in November, 1970 with the first Inter-Virgin Islands Track and Field Meet, held at the Martin Marietta facility on St.Croix.

The fledgling squad did itself proud, just missing the overall championship but scoring impressive wins in several events. Dale Abrahamson and Gene Hodge were double winners and the BVI showed well in the high jump with wins from Elmo Connor and young Urmin Richardson.

Meanwhile, an Association had been formed with Payne as its first President, O’Neal as Vice-President, Monica Martin as Secretary and Erskine the first Treasurer. With Sailsman’s assistance, an application for membership in the International Amateur Athletic Federation had been forwarded to the London office. Acceptance was surprisingly fast in coming and by the middle of 1971 the B.V.I. Amateur Athletics Association had become a member of the international track and field fraternity.

1971 also saw the first British Virgin Islands athletes compete at the international level. Thanks to the connections of Payne, four of our athletes were invited to the prestigious Southern Games in Trinidad. Those Games at the time were the sport’s leading Invitational event in the region and attracted competitors from throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, the French islands, North America and the occasional African.

Dale Abrahamson beat all other Caribbean com­petitors in winning a bronze medal in the 800 metres. His colleagues, sprinters Cecil Dawson and Velma Warner, and thrower Gene Hodge also performed well with Hodge and Dawson later winning medals in a meet in Barbados on the way home.

The next few years were relatively un­eventful. The Executive had begun to disintegrate owing to emigration. A new Executive was formed with high school teachers Rey O’Neal, Theda Bucknor, John Lewis and Juno Samuels in the key positions.

The high school system continued to produce good athletes but for such stars as Marva Mercer, Derry Fahie and Jackie Richardson there were virtually no opportunities to compete abroad. For the senior competitors there were none at all.

Things began to change in 1974 when the first BVI Invitational Track Meet was held with notable success. Occasional competitions allowed our athletes to travel to St. Kitts and Montserrat. In 1975 the BVI took part for the first time in a regional meet – the CA.C. Championships in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
A very young team was not up to the task of competing against the international athletes on show, but the experience was useful. Among the “baby brigade” of that venture were high school stars Dean Greenaway, Ephraim Penn and Rose Phillips. Phillips managed to place a creditable sixth in the long jump.

In 1976 the BVI took part for the first time in the CARIFTA Games, the premier junior regional athletic competition. The squad of Greenaway, Penn. Phillips and Delores Barzey performed well with Greenaway placing 5th in the 400 metres.

1976 was also a significant year in that, thanks to the efforts of Association President, Khalil “Johnny” Hassan, the BVIAAA gained the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Tortola. The driving forces within the Rotary Club were Jim Morris, Roosevelt Smith, Bob Gray and Vincent O’Neal.

By 1976 the BVI Invitational Track Meet had become a regular summer event for athletes from the neighbouring islands.
Coming over from St. Thomas to represent the BVI was Jerry Molyneaux who, together with Greenaway and Phillips, led the BVI effort. Greenaway’s outstanding performance here paid off in a Rotary-sponsored scholarship to Pasadena City College in California.

In 1978 the BVI gained its first CARIFTA Games medal as Greenaway copped silver in the 400 metres in the Bahamas. Also on that team, considered by many to have been our strongest ever junior squad, were sprinters Lindel “Chef” Hodge and Geoffrey ”T.J.” Todman and long jumper and sprinter, Guy Hill.

Hill, who set a still-standing high school record in the 200 metre dash and broke the existing long jump record by over a foot, was to become the second recipient of Rotary Club largesse, taking his talents to Santa Fe Community College in Florida. Hodge, who set a national record in the 100 metres, succeeded Greenaway at Pasadena, the latter having moved on to the University of Colorado.

1979 was another significant year. In that year, Greenaway gave the Territory its first medal in a senior regional Championship event when he claimed a bronze medal at the CA.C. Championships in Guadalajara. Mexico. Molyneaux also performed well, establishing a new national record in the 800 while finishing fifth.

Greenaway gained TFA AlI-America status in the 400 metres and finished the year ranked among the top 50 in the world in his event.
The Pan American Games were held in San Juan that summer and the fact that athletes of the caliber of Greenaway and Molyneaux were unable to participate brought into focus the need for the formation of a National Olympic Committee, a body that would eventually gain recognition three years later.

The three following years saw continued good performances by the overseas-based athletes. At the junior level several stars shone briefly including Cleo George of Virgin Gorda and Andre Pickering who. in 1982, became the second BVI athlete to win a CARIFTA Games silver medal. However, most of the more talented high school athletes seemed to be reluctant to continue in the sport after graduation.

In 1982 the B.V.I. A.A.A. was represented for the first time at the Central American and Caribbean Games. The B.V.I. A.A.A. Invitational Track Meet was a major success as, for the first time in several years, all four of our U.S. based athletes competed at home.

A squad of six was chosen for the Games in Havana, although Ronald Smith eventually remained outside the arena. Dean Greenaway got us off to a brilliant start, winning his heat in the 400 metres, but in the final analysis, the team had to content itself with national records in both relays.

The pre-Olympic year (1983) also saw the introduction of the I.A.A.F. World Championships. Selected to represent the BVI were Greenaway, who had enjoyed his best indoor season, ranking among the top twenty 400 metre runners in the U.S.A. and Rose (Phillips) King, attempting a comeback after several years absence.

Unfortunately, Greenaway was at less than peak fitness and King, like many of the female athletes from the small Caribbean islands, was somewhat awed by the occasion and neither did as well as was hoped.

Making a mark at the high school level in Florida was Pat Archibald, daughter of the former Inez Hodge and niece of Middleton Archibald, a former West Indies Championships medalist. Pat Archibald would be a dominant figure in state-wide competition and go on to set B.V.I National Records in the high jump and both hurdle events in a career that spanned only the years 2002-2004.

1984 was the year in which the British Virgin Islands first competed at the Olympic Games. Hill and Hodge were running as well as they ever had, and Greenaway and Molyneaux were also coming close to their 1982 form.

In preparation for the Games, the quartet spent three weeks training in New Jersey under the direction of former U.S. Olympic gold medalist Ron Freeman. Paul Hewlett, now based in Britain, was also se­lected but family commitments precluded his joining the team. As it turned out, the BVI 4 x 400 metre relay team set a new national record, but individually, while by no means disgracing themselves, the athletes seemed to be less sharp than in Havana two years before.

The mid ‘80’s marked the beginning of a strong local age -group programme. Winston Potter, a former intercollegiate athlete at Murray State University and latterly, Dag Samuels, a CARIFTA performer in the late ‘70’s spearheaded the effort. The return home of Dean Greenaway also provided an inspirational boost. Gordon Callender proved to be very useful in the identification of primary school athletes.

In 1987, the first course for certification of athletics coaches was held in Tortola. I.A.A.F. regional instructors Victor Lopez, Dan Pfaff and Gary Winckler conducted the course which resulted in eight new coaches being certified at level I, to join the previously accredited Winston Potter, Alpheus Potter and Dag Samuels.

Samuels eventually went on to gain certification at Level III, making him one of a handful of coaches from the English-speaking Caribbean to earn such recognition.

Also in 1987, the O.E.C.S. Championships appeared for the first time on the regional athletics calendar. The five editions of the event have been quite useful in providing athletes from the smaller islands a chance to compete against others who have had to face the same adversity in developing their talents.

The meet has also encouraged senior athletes, who may have no grand international ambitions to continue in the sport after their junior eligibility had expired. In the inaugural O.E.C.S. Championships, Alpheus Potter won medals in both the shot putt and discus throw, while Dean Greenaway placed second in the 400.

Later that year, three athletes – Greenaway, Hewlett and Hodge – wore the national colours at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. Paul Hewlett, in his second year as a decathlete, provided a pleasant surprise with a fifth place finish in the grueling 10-eventer. Selected for the World Championships in Rome, he again did well, outlasting several of the more fancied world- raters.

In 1988, Hewlett returned home and gathered a number of athletes who he viewed as potential multi-eventers. Among them was Karl Scatliffe who, in Antigua, won the high jump at the O.E.C.S. Championships.

In the BVI’s most successful O.E.C.S. venture to date, veterans Greenaway and Hodge also won gold medals in the 400 and 200 metres respectively. All three would later win medals at the Texaco Games in Barbados, to which all O.E.C.S. winners were invited.

New stars had begun to emerge. William Archer had become the best high school sprinter/jumper since Guy Hill a decade before. However, his career had been imperiled by a serious auto accident which affected his performances for nearly two years.

Tracy Bradshaw had shown signs of assuming the mantle of Rose King as a female competitor who could hold her own regionally. Shot putter Raphael Jack and high jumper Mervin Charles also performed well.

Our Olympic team in 1988 consisted of two members – Lindel Hodge and Willis Todman. Todman, who ran the 400 at Seoul, had been ‘discovered’ by Guy Hill at a meet in St. Thomas. Although basically more comfortable in the short sprints, Todman has been a very useful member of national teams whenever his services were needed.

In 1989 the high jump became the feature event of the local track scene. Charles and Raymond Solomon both broke the high school record. The latter upset his cousin Karl Scatliffe to capture the O.E.C.S. Championship.

At the National Championships, both cleared 2 metres for the first time. Scatliffe went on to set a new O.E.C.S. record at the C.A.C. Championships in San Juan, where his 2.08m (6 ‘9 ¾”) leap was good enough for fourth place in the memorable competition in which Cuba’s, Javier Sotomayor became history’s first eight-foot jumper. Solomon won our first CARlFTA medal for several years with a third place performance in Barbados.

Two significant newcomers had also begun to make their presence felt. Ereia Smith had started a string of three consecutive Victrix Ludorum performances at the BVI High School Inter-House competition and went on to establish a new national record in the 1500 metres. Keita Cline had re-appeared after an injury-imposed hiatus. Together with Tracy Bradshaw and sprinter Jasmine King, they had produced the BVI High School’s best performance abroad with impressive results at the Jesse Holt Invitational in Florida. Bradshaw set national records in the 200, 400 and 800 metres.

Also doing well in Miami was Clair Powell, another middle distance star, whose light flickered and died within a year.

Early in 1990, Willis Todman made his mark indoors, placing second in the 400 metres in the National Collegiate Division III Championships. Karl Scatliffe and Willie Archer had moved to California and both competed quite well for Compton Junior College. At home, Solomon carried the BVI High School record to 6’8” and did well internationally, finishing third at the CARlFTA Games and second at the O.E.C.S. Championships, one position up on Mervin Charles.

Also scoring in the high jump at the O.E.C.S. meet was Ereia Smith who placed third. Smith, more highly regarded as a middle distance runner, had earlier placed fourth at the CARlFTA Games over 1500 metres.

On the whole, the O.E.C.S. Games in St. Kitts were a fruitful exercise. A larger female contingent was sent than in previous years and they accounted for national records in both relays.

In the 4 x 100 metres, Rose King entered the record books 16 years after her first national record. Tracy Bradshaw was joined by Jasmine King and Karen Ward on both squads with Ereia Smith replacing Rose King in the longer event.

Raphael Jack set a national record in the shot put, later to be broken in St. Thomas, in claiming the bronze medal. Almost unnoticed was Keita Cline who set a national mark in the triple jump. He had won a bronze medal in the junior 200 metres at the CARlFTA Games in Jamaica a few weeks earlier, competing in the Under-17 division.

At the National Championships in July, the BVI witnessed a seven-foot high jump for the first time. Karl Scatliffe achieved the feat in winning by 8 inches. Neither the injured Solomon nor Charles participated.

Cline once more broke the national triple jump record. Other local stars were Ereia Smith (who scored an unusual 1500 metre – high jump double), Bradshaw, and Roger Leon Mathavious as well as Willis Todman, who ran fairly well in his initial appearance at home, winning silver medals in both sprints.

The present looked good and the future promised to be even better. Tracy Bradshaw and Keita Cline relocated to Gainesville, Florida to conclude their high school careers under the watchful eye of their first coach Dag Samuels. Bradshaw was first to make an impression, ranking among the top five schoolgirls in the U.S.A. over the indoor 500 metre distance. Cline began to click shortly before departing for the CARlFTA Games in Trinidad.

That year’s CARlFTA Games squad consisted of four athletes, all of whom were deemed capable of winning medals. As it turned out, Ereia Smith was unable to travel with the team. However, Raphael Jack placed fourth in the shot put, Cline fourth in the triple jump and Tracy Bradshaw fifth in the long jump.

Most impressive though was Cline’s win in the long jump with a leap of 24’4”. It was the Territory’s first ever CARlFTA gold and also shattered Guy Hill’s11 year old national record.

Cline and Bradshaw continued to compete very well on the Florida scholastic circuit with Cline breaking his triple jump record and Bradshaw lowering her national bests in both the 200 and 400. Unfortunately she suffered a leg injury just prior to the State Championships and had her season curtailed. Cline went on to place third in the long jump at the State meet.

Back on the home front, the B.V.I. managed to claim only two medals at what would turn out to be the final O.E.C.S. Championships in St.Lucia. However one of those was a gold by Raymond Solomon in the high jump with a meet record performance of 2.10 metres (6’10 ¾”).

Cline had a most impressive showing for a 16 year old with a leap of 50’ 0 ¾” in the triple jump, good enough for bronze. Solomon went on to win his event at the Texaco Games in Barbados, the first individual victory by a B.V.I. athlete at the Bridgetown meet.

The local programme was also expanded to include a B.V.I. Inter-Secondary competition, the Inter Virgin-Islands Youth Championships and the Inter-Virgin Islands Secondary Schools Championships.

The brainchild of Bryan Penn, head of the Sports Division, these competitions have been invaluable in the identification and development of talent throughout the Territory. Another I.A.A.F. coaching course held in October, 1990 also did much to improve the competence and confidence of local coaches.

It is risky business to predict subsequent success of young athletes but three boys had shown the potential to graduate to the national team ranks by 1992. They were sprinter /long jumpers Mario Todman and Michael Hastick, and Steve Augustine, proficient in track events from 200 to 800 metres.

The most promising females were still in the primary school ranks.

Facilities had improved considerably over the past twenty years. In 1986 the ‘New’ Recreation Ground, now the A.O.Shirley Ground, was expanded, allowing for the installation of a 400 metre track.

As the previous circuit had measured only 300 metres in circumference, it caused some problems for our younger athletes who tended to be intimidated by the full-sized oval. A major problem persisted though in that the overcrowded facility at the A.O. Shirley Ground made it difficult for senior athletes in particular to train without having to dodge flying missiles of all types. It was hoped that the installation of lights and a staggered schedule would make it possible for practitioners of all sporting disciplines to train more effectively.

There was also more encouragement from the Government agencies responsible for sport than in years past. The Ministry of Health, Education and Welfare, as well as the Department of Education and the Sports Division had all been very supportive of the BVIAAA developmental prorammes with hopes that it would continue.

The human resources have always been there and it was a matter of pride not only for the B.V.I.A.A.A., but also for their fellow athletes that Keita Cline and Tracy Bradshaw left in September on athletic scholarships at the University of Minnesota and Northern Arizona University respectively with hopes that others would follow the same path.

The B.V.I.A.A.A. was very thankful to all those who over the years had helped in the organising of its events, or officiated at its competitions as well as for the support of its sponsors and the general public who although critical at times, generally supported its efforts.

Reynold O’Neal
[Original draft 1991. Updated in 2010]