Ford: why Olympic track star, Dr Cliff Bertrand, represents the best of Arima sport

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“[…] Like Shelly [Gomes], let’s all sing our praises in memory of another great native of Arima, Dr Cliff Bertrand, trusting that his death will not be forgotten but instead bring about a rebirth of sports in the only Royal Chartered Borough in Trinidad and Tobago…”

The following Letter to Editor in tribute of former Olympic track star, educator and Wired868 contributor Dr Cliff Bertrand was submitted by Ashton Ford, former mayor and MP for Arima:

Photo: Dr Cliff Bertrand poses with a portrait of himself during a ceremony at the New York University, when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Arimians are today mourning the demise of outstanding athlete and educationist Dr Cliff Bertrand, who passed away on Saturday 28 November in the United States of America. The Royal Borough has now lost two of its outstanding sons in the sporting arena within two and a half months following on the 15 September death of former national cricketer Sheldon Gomes in Las Vegas, USA.

Just as Sheldon’s death brought back pleasant and glorious cricketing and football memories, Bertrand’s departure has Arimians discussing the glory days of track and field in the only royal chartered  borough in the Western Hemisphere.

Dr Bertrand—Cliff as he is affectionately called in Arima—spearheaded the formation of Abilene Athletic Club in 1963 after his days of representing Trinidad and Tobago at various international sporting events, including two Olympics in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.

KFC Munch Pack

His early days at Arima Boys RC School under the tutelage of Messrs Johnny Brooks, Sulan Assue and Roderick Reece inspired him and ignited his interest in sports.

Later, as a student of Ideal and Progressive Secondary School, this son of the soil from the foothills of Calvary went on to compete against the then best track and field stars from the North and often emerged victorious. It was not long before he was one of the most popular sportsmen from Arima.

Photo: Dr Cliff Betrand.

But Dr Bertrand did not rest only on his athletic laurels. He became a much-liked teacher at Tunapuna Government Secondary School and subsequently pursued post-graduate studies in the US. He rose to become head coach at New York University, where he used his influence to secure scholarships for countless Caribbean athletes.

As head coach at Abilene, he had already overseen the development and emergence of many track and field stars who would go on to represent T&T at international games, including the Olympics. Among them were Laura Pierre, the first female athlete to represent T&T at the Olympics, Michael Paul, Ronald Affoon, Charlie Joseph, Ainsley Armstrong, Carlyle Bernard, Andrew Bruce and Deon Lendore.

Dr Bertrand’s genuine love for Arimians meant that he kept in constant touch with the athletes who were under his programme. Amazingly, many of them would tell you, he even remembered their birthdays.

He also maintained contact with the successive mayors of Arima through the years, regardless of their political colour.

As chairman of the Sports and Cultural Committee of the Arima Borough Council, I remember the night in 1979 when he came close to shedding public tears. On that memorable Friday night, the first all-weather athletic track was opened at the Arima Municipal Stadium. The evening also featured football and cycling under floodlights.

Photo: Then North East Stars winger Akeem “Froggy” Garcia (left) tries to hold off a Police FC opponent during Pro League action at the Arima Velodrome on 28 July 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Fighting back the tears, Cliff confessed that he had never thought he would live to see the day when that would happen in T&T. And for it to happen in Arima was more than a lagniappe.

When the lights were switched on for the spectacular triple treat, it marked the beginning of night sport in T&T, a historic Arima achievement.

From that moment, Arima became the mecca of sporting activities featuring national, regional and international stars in football, cycling and track and field.

In cycling, the country’s outstanding cyclists like Roger Gibbons, Fitz Hoyte, Leslie King, Leslie Rawlins and Ian Atherly were among the great stars who carried T&T flag with distinction.

Hasely Crawford headed a list of athletes who along with the Arima group mentioned earlier brought thousands of spectators to their feet in some of the most exhilarating races at the Municipal Stadium.

Photo: The late Sheldon Gomes (right) and his younger brother Larry Gomes.
Both brothers, who hailed from Arima, represented Trinidad and Tobago at cricket while Larry was also a household name for the West Indies team.
(via Loop TT)

In football, it was the era when Memphis from Cocorite Road, Arima dominated the national football winning the prestigious FA and League Cups and losing the League title by one point to the Defence Force. Arima United also made their mark at the national level in Football winning several titles.

It is for this reason that Arimians are talking and discussing how sportsmen like Sheldon Gomes and Cliff Bertrand made incredible sacrifices in the sporting arena which prompted the powers that be to recognize their outstanding achievement by providing the world class facilities in Arima.

But alas both Dr Bertrand and Sheldon Gomes left us with the very sad and unfortunate situation where the first all weather athletic track and the cricket ground are nothing more than a memory.

We no longer have the privilege of witnessing any local, national, regional or international sporting events in Arima because our beloved Royal Chartered Borough is seen as a glorified village that does not even cater for an inter-zone game at any level.

We in Arima, like Dr Bertrand and Sheldon Gomes, still love and cherish our home town even if the name is mentioned only once in a national budget.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago track star and Olympian Dr Cliff Bertrand was placed into the New York University Hall of Fame in 2015.

Like Shelly, let’s all sing our praises in memory of another great native of Arima, Dr Cliff Bertrand, trusting that his death will not be forgotten  but instead bring about a rebirth of sports in the only Royal Chartered Borough in Trinidad and Tobago.

After 132 years, we deserve nothing less.

Farewell my mentor we will always cherish your excellence in Sports and Education.

Rest in Peace.

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