Dear Editor: St Benedict’s training ground shames its football teams and Dom Basil’s legacy

As we enter the new year, let me extend already mountainous congratulations to the St Benedict’s College senior and under-14 football teams. Theirs was an outstanding season.

As a past student not that many moons ago, it is beyond heart-warming to see the fruits of the rebuilding of a once mighty and feared team that was all but gutted and completely hollowed out in the 1970s and 80s.

St Benedict’s College captain Tarik Lee (second from right) celebrates another goal while Fatima College right back Jesse Hospedales (far right) looks dejected during the SSFL Big 4 final at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 26 October 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

More on that later. For now, again, a heartfelt congratulations again to the “La Romaine Lions”.

If there is an afterlife, I imagine that Dom Basil Matthews, the founder of the school, is looking on with pride. For this is much more than just a sporting achievement, this is the realisation of the vision of a physical and intellectual giant.

When “the Dom”, as he was fondly called, founded St Benedict’s College in 1956, it was to establish a fully comprehensive model, which included everything from typing and commerce to music—as opposed to the overly-vaunted prestigious grammar school model—to develop the under-privileged boys from La Romaine, San Fernando and other rural or otherwise marginalised communities in the southland, who could not make it into the elite schools of the day.

La Romaine was very much the clichéd backwater community, and the setting up of this institution, coupled with the successes on the football field, was as much a victory for the people of La Romain as it was for the Lions.

I wish to underscore the achievements of the teams by calling attention to the realities of the field on which they trained, realities that left me deeply unsettled when I compared what I saw at St Benedict’s to what school sports fields look like in Jamaica (which doesn’t have oil, except in dey food).

The St Benedict’s College Under-14 team and, on occasion, the Premier Division team trained at the Commons facility in La Romaine in 2022.
(via Corey Gilkes)

Here are two football teams with clearly talented players whose training grounds, the Commons, are presently not just in terrible disrepair—the field itself is a minefield of mud in inclement weather, while the pavilion itself is a veritable safety hazard and a tragedy just waiting to happen.

Maybe that is what some are hoping for, given the desire to sell the property and relocate the school. That has been written about before, and there is no need to revisit that here—except to say that, in a soon to be published book on Dom Basil Matthews, the reader will learn of the struggles against class and racial prejudices to establish such an institution.

The reader will learn how the Dom had to essentially go over the heads of the local gatekeepers, straight to the Vatican, in order to establish the institution.

If all of this is now in the past and we live in more enlightened times, I then sincerely hope that in the new year, many of those who are connected to the upper echelons of the school—some of whom were most prominent with each victory, they whose chests swelled with pride at the end of each victorious game—put their money, or at the very least their influence, where their mouths are if they wish to see more success.

If the boys in green and black are to repeat and build on the successes of this year, then they cannot be the only ones putting out the effort that is required.

St Benedict’s College head coach Randolph Boyce (second from left) has a word with his players during the Big 4 final in Couva on 26 October 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

I know this is a challenge in these dire economic times, but I also know that proposals were put forward for a multi-sports complex, dormitory and academy, utilising the multi-purpose co-operative Mondragon model.

This proposal, if accepted, would see the creation of a facility that would more than pay for itself, earn much-needed revenue for the school and be yet another milestone for the people of La Romaine and South Trinidad.

Think of the feathers placed in the caps of many when a refurbished pavilion and upgraded field produces not just a powerful and wildly successful group of players, but a community that can point with pride to such a facility and boast of a model that contributes to the reduction of mounting delinquency and crime.

The Commons facility in La Romaine.
(via Corey Gilkes)

We know that economic contractions, coupled with legacy issues of communities neglected for generations, routinely combine to pave a pathway to violent street crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, etc.

The Dom understood this fully. Hence he focused on sports, principally football, to channel youthful energies in a more positive direction.

I can point to dozens of studies and an article written in 1975 that connected sporting activities and the channelling of youthful aggression with successes on the field and a developed, confident figure off the field, who is better equipped to interact with society.

St Benedict’s College famous team of 1966. Standing (left to right) are Lawrence ‘Fred’ Rondon, Kenney ‘KJ’ Joseph, Warren ‘Laga’ Archibald, Leroy ‘Dilly’ DeLeon, and coach Americo Brunner.
Wilfred ‘Bound to score’ Cave (second from right), Jan Steadman (far right) are seated.
(via TT Football History)

So if the people who run St Benedict’s wish to see continued successes on the football field (and cricket pitch and track and archery and….), perhaps that proposal should be looked at again.

The recently departed Pelé began his career at 17, we saw the magic that is Brian Lara, but how many saw the years of preparation that made the track for them ‘gouti’ to run across our screens?

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