Blanchisseuse Secondary got a point on the road today in their first ever appearance in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Big Five competition, as they held Miracle Ministries Pentecostal High School (MMPHS) goalless—in a rowdy but good-natured contest at Edinburgh 500.
It was one of two drawn matches on the day, as Moruga Secondary came back from a goal down to tie St Augustine Secondary 1-1 at Gordon Street in St Augustine.
Utility player Ethan Friday put the “Green Machine” ahead in the 35th minute, only for Moruga’s Malique Friday to grab an equaliser. The game, naturally, was played on a Friday afternoon.
TGIF in St Augustine, then. Things might have been more tense at Edinburgh 500.
Unlike St Augustine and Moruga, neither MMPHS nor Blanchisseuse have ever played in the SSFL Premier Division. It is a fact that they are both eager to change.
For Blanchisseuse, the 2023 season marked their maiden North Zone league title—somehow achieved under rookie coach Brent Rodriguez.
“I am originally from Morvant but I moved up to Blanchisseuse about six years ago,” Rodriguez told Wired868. “So, I am no longer a town boy, I’ve become a countryman.”
Having seen off the well-resourced Trinity College (Moka) for the North title, Rodriguez recruited ex-Defence Force goalkeeper Selwyn George and veteran former St Augustine Secondary coach Sean Best as his assistants, along with Kevon Palmer as team manager.
“This is my first coaching experience, so it is new to me—although I played for Malick and Defence Force,” he said. “So, since moving forward from the North Zone, I got a little bit more experience to help me.”
For Miracle Ministries, this is their second successive tilt at the Big Five. They won the Central Zone too in 2022 but finished bottom of the Big Five.
Current coach Kern Cupid helped MMPHS to both zonal titles, although he gave way to technical director Patrick Sambrano for the 2022 Big Five competition—in which they finished bottom. (There was no shortage of controversy in their title defence, after a registration error saw them temporarily stripped of the Central crown.)
Cupid lured the former Carapichaima East Secondary duo of Kyle Holder and Keon Codrington to the government-assisted school for the 2023 season, to add some know-how to his troops for occasions like today.
But, try as they might, MMPHS could not find a way past Blanchisseuse’s plucky, diminutive goalkeeper Simon Kirk.
The north coast team had their moments, with Kirk’s brother and team captain Abraham Kirk generally at the heart of their offerings from central midfield. But MMPHS were generally too organised to be knocked over by mere enthusiasm.
Not that Blanchisseuse’s contagious enthusiasm should be taken lightly though.
The team, accompanied by school principal Hashim Johnson and a small band of villagers, left the north coast at 9am for Chaguanas. And they did not travel that distance to make up numbers.
“Oh gosh, sit down nah coach,” a patron sarcastically told a Blanchisseuse supporter in the stands. “Other people want to see the game too, yuh know.”
The Blanchisseuse visitor sat, but he was unapologetic.
“I come out to back my side you know,” retorted the Blanchisseuse fan, who looked to be in his 60s at least. “I excited by my side. If you not excited about yours, I don’t know what to tell you!”
At the edge of the pitch, Blanchisseuse’s new assistant coach, George, was at least as exciting at the game. Let’s just say there is animated and then there is “Sideshow George”.
Imagine the most hyperactive child you ever met, throw in the muscular build of retired boxer Kertson Manswell, and then pump him full of sugar and Red Bull. And you’re probably somewhere close to the supremely partisan Blanchisseuse assistant coach, who never sat down and never stopped talking—whether it was criticising every single refereeing decision against his team, or urging his boys forward.
Midway in the second half, Blanchisseuse left back Jeremiah Donawa tugged back MMPHS midfielder Keon Codrington, who responded by lowering his shoulder into Donawa to try to break free.
George screamed for referee Akil Weekes to penalise the MMPHS player. Codrington, frustrated, ran over to the Blanchisseuse bench to shout back.
“You ent see the man pulling my shirt?!” Codrington yelled, as his team captain Miqel Samuel sprinted over to drag him away and urge him to ignore the boisterous Blanchisseuse coach.
Perhaps Codrington’s response summed up MMPHS’ afternoon. Utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Central team often had an extra player in central midfield against Blanchisseuse’s 4-4-2—no matter how much George yelled to his outnumbered midfielders to somehow “keep it tight”.
But Holder and flanker Jabari Rodriguez seemed a little too interested in showboating than putting Blanchisseuse to the sword. And, to be fair, Simon Kirk was like a man possessed between the uprights for Blanchisseuse.
“Kudos to Blanchisseuse, with their aggression and their intensity,” said Cupid, after the final whistle. “[…] We didn’t lose, and I hope we can take our chances going forward.
“[…] I like how our team stood up to the challenge and I feel we have a good chance for the rest of the Big Five.”
Pastor Winston Cuffie, a Chaconia Medal (Gold) recipient and the co-founder of Miracle Ministries, is an affluent man. But the MMPHS football team do not appear to have his full blessing.
The players wore faded black tops which did not come with matching shorts. Instead, players were clearly asked to bring their own black short pants, which resulted in an assortment of different brands.
In the second half, as MMPHS substitute goalkeeper Daniel Blacks prepared to go on to the field, he first had to get his burst boots taped up so that it might get through his 13-minute cameo.
On each foot, Blacks wore a different brand of football tugs.
“You know how it is at school level,” said Cupid, a former Trinidad and Tobago international and W Connection standout. “Unfortunately, not everyone will have three or four [pairs of] boots. We try to work with what we have.”
If everyone in the stands today contributed just five dollars, Blacks could get a new pair of boots. It says something that even zonal champions cannot afford proper uniforms and equipment.
Beyond Blanchisseuse’s beautiful uniforms, one could tell that they are struggling financially. But their principal, Johnson, is fully on board and the excitement within their ranks was evident.
“We are ecstatic to be here (as North Zone champions),” said Johnson. “It is 20 years we have been trying to get to this level; and if you look all around the ground, you will see players who have played with us through the years.
“It has lifted the community and I am so proud of the boys. This is not just a school team; this is the north coast. This is Maracas, Las Cuevas, Blanchisseuse, Paria, you could even go as far as Santa Cruz; and then there are some from Arima and Maraval and we are uplifting everybody.
“It is a really, really nice feeling.”
A Cunupia resident, Johnson started as an AT3 teacher at Blanchisseuse, 21 years ago, and moved all the way up to school principal.
“I am teaching children now who I have taught their parents,” he said, “so I feel like part of the community and I hope they feel the same.”
Johnson claimed that school morale, discipline and attendance went up, on the back of the football team’s successful North Zone title last year.
“Everybody is coming out to school,” he said. “Everybody is proud to be from Blanchisseuse.”
Hernandez, the former Malick footballer, took up residence just five minutes away from the school in 2018. When former Blanchisseuse coach and teacher Gyasi Nkrumah left to take up a post at St Mary’s College last year, he held up his hand for the job.
Hernandez’ wife, Mynill Jack, works alongside him as team medic.
“I must give credit to my wife, who was with me from day one,” he said.
As he reminisced about their unlikely title success, another family member came to mind—his late mother, Carolyn Bravo-Vallenilla, who urged him to give the coaching job his best shot.
“I feel very happy, very proud,” said Hernandez. “I do this for my mom. She passed away last year and…”
Reduced to tears, the Blanchisseuse coach needed a moment to compose himself.
“I decided that I will make her wish come through,” said Hernandez. “I know she is happy where she is in heaven and everything I do is for her. We are looking to move forward from the North Zone into the Premiership for my mom: Carolyn Bravo-Vallenilla.”
All five schools in the ongoing competition are already zonal champions. Each one hopes to brush shoulders with the likes of Presentation College (San Fernando), Fatima College and Naparima College next season, in front of SportsMax television cameras.
St Augustine and Moruga are looking for immediate reinstatement, after being relegated from the Premier Division in 2022. Signal Hill Secondary, a former SSFL powerhouse, are believed to have a bright new crop of players. Miracle Ministries would hope the second time is the charm, after failing to advance from the 2022 Big Five pool.
But Blanchisseuse have their plans as well.
“We are here to send a message that we are going to the Premiership,” said Hernandez.
Blanchisseuse host St Augustine next on Thursday 15 February while Signal Hill, who were on a bye today, travel to Moruga.
The stakes could scarcely be higher.
Miracle Ministries Pentecostal High School (4-2-3-1): 1.Kieron Guy (GK); 3.Terriq Thomas, 4.Miqel Samuel (captain), 21.Mathias Squires, 2.Isiah Mitchell; 7.Keon Codrington, 6.Shevon Lallo (12.Rolando Solomon 46); 10.Kyle Holder, 17.Aaron Clement (15.Daniel Blacks 77), 9.Jabari Rodriguez; 11.Judah Chinapoo.
Unused substitutes: 5.Jerrod Modeste, 8.Romario De Silva, 13.Jadon Whiskey, 16.Jadell Henry, 22.Aadi Ramdhanie, 35.Braedon Marchan, 34.O’Neil Melville.
Coach: Kern Cupid
Blanchisseuse Secondary (4-4-2): 1.Simon Kirk (GK); 2.Romeo Fraser, 6.Andy Quintero, 14.Jesus Bailey, 15.Jeremiah Donawa; 13.Ozia Danclair (10.Allister Noreiga 75), 7.Abraham Kirk (captain), 8.Aaron Marcano, 11.Johan Bleasdell (4.Zariyus Kirk 83); 5.Noah Lewis, 18.Mickily Whiskey.
Unused substitutes: 17.Damian Daniel (GK), 3.Prince Selkridge, 12.Aaron John, 16.Manuel Hernandez, 19.Samuel Williams.
Coach: Brent Rodriguez
Referee: Akil Weekes
SSFL Big Five fixtures
(Friday 2 February)
Miracle Ministries PHS 0, Blanchisseuse Secondary 0 at Edinburgh 500 Recreation Ground;
St Augustine Secondary 1 (Ethan Friday), Moruga Secondary 1 (Malique Friday) at St Augustine ground;
Signal Hill Secondary are on a bye