The heart of Moruga: SSFL Big 5 champs find strength in community

When Wired868 caught up with Moruga Secondary head coach Kempton Duval in the dressing rooms under the main stand of the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment lance corporal was having a matter-of-fact conversation with his players about their attitude toward training.

Moruga Secondary had just suffered what would be the first of only two defeats of the 2019 Secondary School Football League (SSFL) season—a 3-0 penalty shoot-out defeat to Pleasantville Secondary in the South Zone Intercol quarter-finals.

Photo: Moruga Secondary forward Mont Zion Bain (left) tries to win possession of the ball during South Zone Intercol quarterfinal action against Pleasantville Secondary at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 12 November 2019.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

Instead of berating his charges, Duval showed them how their lack of focus during penalty practice had cost them.

But you could forgive their complacency at this point in the season; Duval’s Moruga Secondary had achieved everything they set out to at that point.

“The success of the team is a great feeling for the school and the community,” the young coach said, reflecting on what has been the experience of a lifetime for Moruga residents and supporters of the school’s football programme.

“The entire Moruga area has a buzz and a sense of pride,”

Moruga Secondary ran unbeaten to the South Zone championship title, incredibly winning all eight matches and earning a shot at promotion to the SSFL’s premiership.

Despite missing out on the South Intercol crown, the team went on to capture the National Big Five title, winning two, drawing one and losing their final match against Arima North Secondary. That performance earned them one of three premiership places up for grabs.

Photo: The Moruga Secondary team celebrating securing the SSFL Big 5 title, despite a 1-0 loss to Arima North Secondary at the Arima Old Road ground on 23 November 2019.
Back row (left to right) are Keston Reveiro (assistant coach), Kevin Steeling, Ellec Edwards, Joshua Kesney, Dwight Douglas, Jeremy Steeling, Jeremiah John, Johnathan Edwards, Tyrique Lucas and Kempton Duval (head coach).
Front row (left to right) is Kaylon Ayers, Mont Zion Bain, Omari Khan, Tishawn Ragoo, Matthew Lee Cummings, Tyrell Thompson, Akeem Arrindell, Malik Friday and Devin Arrindell.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

In 2020, Moruga Secondary will make its SSFL Premier Division debut, a feat Duval said was the crowning glory of his fledgeling career.

Their 2019 season is a testament to their ability to maintain unity and the strength of the community around them.

Duval, an Edward Trace, Basse Terre, Moruga resident who once captained his neighbourhood team, jumped at the opportunity to lead the school’s senior boys’ team once again in 2012.

What he found was less than ideal.

“I was appointed head coach after the team lost their first game of the season against St Benedict’s College,” Duval recounted. “They didn’t have a head coach, lacked discipline and structure, and had very little to no sense of direction. I gladly accepted this post because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to my alma mater and my community at large.”

The previous season, the team was promoted to the South Zone Championship Division as Senior Division champions.

Photo: Moruga Secondary players celebrate clinching the SSFL Big 5 title despite a 1-0 loss to Arima North in Arima on 23 November 2019.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

Still in transition, however, the joy did not last long.

“We were relegated back to the Senior Division that same season,” Duval remembers. “The 2013 season was also bleak because many of the team members that were with us in 2012 left for ‘greener pastures’. Because of this, new players had to be selected and trained for the 2013 season.”

But in 2014, Moruga were back up, promoted to the Championship Division and advancing to the National Senior Division’s final where they ultimately lost 3-1 to Toco Secondary.

The following year, the head coach focused on his military career while his assistant, Keston Reviero, led Moruga to a creditable third-place finish in the Championship Division.

In 2016, the team once again lost assets to an opposing side when captain Shaquille Louison and goal-scoring threat Maurice Dick left for then Premier Division campaigners Fyzabad.

In a twist of faith, Moruga were promoted from 2nd to first place in the South Zone, after 2017 winner Pleasantville Secondary had points deducted due to a player eligibility issue. But Duval’s boys could not replicate their success in the Big Five, finishing bottom of the table.

Photo: Moruga defender Omari Khan comes to grips with Arima North attacker Daniel Warner during SSFL Big 5 action at the Arima Old Road on 23 November 2019.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

“In all fairness and honesty,” he said, “we weren’t prepared for the Big Five competition. We were informed that we replaced Pleasantville Secondary School as the South Zone winners days before our first Big Five match.”

It was a premature shot at the big leagues for the fledgeling South Zone outfit, but their last-place finish would be a valuable experience for the future.

In 2018, they again finished second to Pleasantville, which proved fortuitous. ‘P’ville’, who had been a constant stumbling block, ascended to the Premier Division.

The catalyst for Moruga’s success was a tragic but unifying event in the off-season. “Sadly, a former player, died in a vehicular accident earlier this year,” Duval explained. “His passing played a key role in keeping the team together during the toughest moments of this season because this season was dedicated to him.”

Christon ‘Ding’ Guevarro was one of five people travelling along Penal Road in a Datsun 720 pickup truck when they collided with a car driving in the opposite direction. Ding died from severe cranial injuries.

Photo: Moruga captain Matthew Lee Cummings (left) tries to hold off Arima North playmaker Jesus De Lecia during SSFL Big 5 action at the Arima Old Road on 23 November 2019.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

In the aftermath, family members decried the state of the roads in the vast Moruga community. But theirs was not a new lament; former member of parliament for Moruga/Tableland Clifton De Coteau referred to the constituency as the ‘landslip capital of Trinidad and Tobago’.

In 2012, of the 478 landslips reported across the country, 202 of those were in Moruga alone. It has been an ongoing tale of neglect that has been the story of the area for far too long.

Moruga needed a win.

Duval and his team-mates dedicated their season to ‘Ding’ with the goal of taking the team into the Premier Division.

“Our journey for this season started with a 5-2 loss to Trinity College East in an off-season matchup,” Duval remembers. “We rebounded with a 3-0 victory over QRC in another off-season matchup and from there the confidence of the players went up.”

Like many other coaches in the SSFL, Duval spoke about the commitment issues that plagued his teenage squad. But unlike other coaches, Duval said he fixed the problem with ‘a few sit-in sessions’.

Photo: Fatima College playmaker Zach Welch (right) battles with a Moruga Secondary opponent for possession during Big 5 action on Mucurapo Road on 29 October 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

As further testament to how the community has rallied behind the team, Duval revealed: “Our captain from last season, former national under-20 player Shaqkeem Joseph, also started training with us whenever he was available, which gave additional motivation to the team.”

Amid all the euphoria, Duval and his management team, which includes long-time manager Andy Joseph, are already focused on next season.

“Honestly, we have to start preparing much earlier,” he said.

That preparation is expected to include live-in camps ‘to retain that special bond that was built during this season’.

Fortunately, the team will head into 2020 with all of its young squad.

“Presently, our team consists of mainly form threes and fours and a couple of form ones,” Duval said. “We also have three repeaters who have gained six, five and four O’ Level passes.”

And their ranks could swell with Moruga players attending schools outside the area eager to join their hometown team for the coming season.

Photo: Moruga Secondary schoolboys roll out the tassa at Mucurapo Road during Big 5 action against Fatima College on 29 October 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The 33-year-old, who may just be the youngest coach in the Premier Division next season, has a fierce sense of community. And he is not the only who gets it.

“The entire school population, and to an extent all of Moruga, has rallied with the school team, especially this season,” he said with a smile. “The atmosphere created for our home games could be described as ‘out of this world’.

“Our rhythm section has also played an integral role in motivating our players, both for home and away matches. Our home ground, which is our fortress, has been a nightmare for visiting schools in recent times.”

Moruga is heading to the top division in the SSFL against all odds. While every member of the team is aware of the rigours Premier Division will present in 2020, they appear undaunted and quietly resolute.

The coach ended his team talk after their Intercol defeat to Pleasantville with a simple message: “There’s no need to be sad. The goal was achieved for the season; now we have to be serious.”

Photo: Moruga Secondary captain Matthew Lee Cummings celebrates a late equaliser against Fatima College during Big 5 action on Mucurapo Road on 29 October 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

He does not spend much time harping on the negatives and reminds young coaches of their responsibility to the teenagers under their whistle.

“Be a mentor and role model to your charges, persevere, never give up on your players nor duties as a coach. It’s not easy but the hard work is worth it!”

The new season promises to test the limits of everyone involved in Moruga’s best year in school football. They arrive at the Premier Division with a point to prove. Coming where they come from, they are almost duty-bound to exceed the expectations of even their most ardent supporters.

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