From Skeen to semi-pro
In the Amandala Editorial.

As far as we know, the Hostel Under-17 basketball tournament was originally organized in the early 1980’s by a supervisor at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel (corner Dolphin and Racoon Streets) by the name of Billy Skeen, who had played senior basketball for the highly ranked Belikin Wheels in the late 1970’s.

The tournament was designed primarily for the recreation and exercise of the young people who had been sent there for confinement and discipline by the courts of Belize. It was always a source of some frustration, mixed with humor, for teams opposing the Hostel entry, that the clock worked quite speedily when the Hostel team was ahead late in games, but very, very slowly when Hostel was behind late and trying to catch up. How could you get angry with the Hostel supervisors? Victory for the Hostel team always made their jobs easier. Victory meant good vibes in the Hostel.

Almost three decades later, the source of the social uproar in Belize City is pretty obvious. Half the boys from each succeeding age group do not participate in high school academics or sports. This has been going on for decades and decades. Every year, several thousand Belizean boys either drop out of primary school or finish primary only to have their formal education come to an end. Those of their age group who go on to high school begin to live a different life from their contemporaries who have to enter the streets.

Each day the academic distance between the two groups of youth becomes greater. That is not the case with the athletic distance. But one problem for the street youth is that there are no organized training programs or tournaments for them to learn/show their skills and develop their self-esteem. The high school sports programs themselves are minimal, but the street programs are non-existent, except for the occasional one-day “marathons.” Billy Skeen’s Hostel Under-17 basketball tournament quickly became big news amongst Belize City teenagers. Whether the Hostel people knew it or not, they were filling a major, sociologically-important need.

The most important aspect of life for the normal teenaged boy is teenaged girls. At what point does a street youth become ineligible for the attentions of girls in his age group who have gone on to high school? Is it a sin for a street youth to like a high school girl in his age group? We don’t think so, but this is the impression which the street youth, over a period of time, will begin to draw from society, that he is inferior because he is poor and not in high school. Such a street youth becomes alienated, then angry, and finally, such a street-youth becomes anti-social. He becomes a gangster in his mind. Belize City produces such youth by the thousands each year.

As the Hostel Under-17 tournament became bigger, it began to integrate street youth and high school youth through the basketball dynamic. In retrospect, this was a positive, even sensational development. When the Amandala Under-17 team won the Hostel tournament in 1987, the stars were street youth like Maurice Williams and Willie Gordon, who were both primary school dropouts. Evan “Duck” Garnett, who was a cousin of Gordon’s, was a St. John’s College student who came off the bench for that team. Evan Duck was pretty much a nobody.

The following year, routinely disrespected by Williams and Gordon, Garnett decided to go off and join Travis Santos, a Belize Technical College student, on an Under-17 team called Mesop Suns. Mesop Suns stunned an arrogant Amandala and beat them for the Hostel championship.

In 1989, all these young men were turning 18, which meant they went up to the Basketball Association’s junior tournament: they could no longer play Under-17. Although Willie Gordon and Maurice Williams were close friends, they went separate ways, Gordon joining the Falcons team for which Garnett, who had become a basketball hero at Anglican Cathedral College, would star.

For two years at the junior level, the Amandala team led by Maurice Williams and the Falcons team led by Duck Garnett, the one more street and the other more high school, fought for the junior championship. The rivalry on the Kremandala compound was intense, at one point threatening to become physical.

Finally, and mercifully, in the 1991 Inter-office tournament at Bird’s Isle, Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn brought the two groups of basketball youth together under the Kremandala banner. (That team, featuring Colin “Whiteness” Grant, beat Santino’s, led by Kirk Smith, in the championship game.) This was the fusion which provided the foundation for the Kremandala Raiders. The original starting five in 1992 included two primary school dropouts – Williams and Gordon; captain Ray Gongora, a Wesley College dropout; and two high school graduates – Evan Garnett (ACC) and Travis Santos (Technical).

In Belize’s inaugural semi-pro basketball season of 1992, these players, four of seven Raider rookies, reached the championship finals. They then won four consecutive championships. For most of these five years, Glenn Tillett was manager and Marshall Nunez was head coach of the Raiders.

Ever since those years, when the ruling UDP victimized the Raiders in different ways, the issue of the Raiders has been a sensitive one for us on Partridge Street. It is now the case, in 2010, that a faction of the Opposition PUP has begun to attack the Kremandala Raiders, specifically their ownership.

There is a story involved with the Kremandala Raiders, and it goes back to Billy Skeen and the Hostel Under-17 tournament, a tournament which the Kremandala Raiders supported financially, with the help of Hon. Jorge Espat and the great leadership of the late, legendary Wilton Cumberbatch, throughout the 1992 to 1996 era.

During those years, Hon. Said Musa assisted the franchise, both legally and financially.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.
Live and let live