For more than 40 years, Trendsetter Hawks founder Anthony ‘Dada’ Wickham has shepherded nearly 1,500 East Port-of-Spain youth away from the stereotypes attached to the area. According to him, the time had come for the club to do even more for its young players.
“For years we had just been a football team and have been quite successful, but we noticed some of the players, even the better ones, were behind where their education was concerned.”
On Friday 6 September, the Trendsetter Hawks and Wickham, distributed school supplies to over 100 student-athletes at City Hall in Port-of-Spain.
Photo: Trendsetter Hawks players celebrate after edging Pro Series to the RBYL U-11 title on penalties on 6 July 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)
“We decided to take the club and move it into another direction and making sure that the players understand that they have to marry academics and football in order to become successful citizens. Today we want to show some kind of proof that academics and sports can go hand in hand,” he said.
Since they began with a group of sixteen 13-year-olds in 1978, Wickham said the main mission was to turn at-risk youths away from the negatives in the society.
“We are in an area where, of course, it’s known there’s a gang culture,” he said, “and Trendsetter is trying to give the youths and them an opportunity to see something different—and of course feed the national and school teams with quality players.”
Councilor Hillan Morean, who grew up in Port-of-Spain, referencing the 2011 Central Statistical Office’s local area report that said 23.5% of Port-of-Spain residents had only a primary school education and four out of 10 had no qualifications, said it was important that statistics did not define the individuals in the room.
He also urged parents not to pull their children from sports when academic milestones approached, but to encourage balance.
Four Trendsetter Hawks players have earned scholarships in the past. Among them, former national Under-20 player Uriah Bentick who represented T&T in Egypt 2009, Ayesha Ollivierre, Ryan Archie and National Beach Soccer player Hakeem King.
Morean said the work for these athletes began very early. “You can’t start focusing in sixth form,” he warned. “You can’t wait until then when the grades lil bad but you’re a good footballer in the school. There are opportunities out there for us, but we have to be prepared.”
The councilor pointed out the presence of a few male guardians at the function but said it was important that more men step forward and play an active role. In the interim, he said, this group was lucky to have an ideal stand-in in ‘Dada’.
Returning to football, Wickham said the youth players he coaches, as well as scores of others with stars in their eyes, were important for the revival of T&T football.
“The more established teams, both club and international, are looking for players at 15-16 to make their full debuts,” he said. “T&T is trying to get things in place with the start of the Elite Youth Programme with the under-13s and now the under-11s.”
He did, however, question the wisdom in introducing Under-11s who had not yet competed at primary school football.
He advised instead that, like Trendsetter Hawks, ‘at under-11, the academies and clubs should have the players enjoying themselves, and of course as they cross 12, they should be put into a more structured environment.’
Nevertheless, he said youth development in any form was important and needed for recruiting younger talent to national teams. But first, he said, instilling a multifaceted commitment to developing young minds was pivotal for their continued growth.