A SPORTSWRITER’S MEMOIRS | Featuring R. St. Havis Shillingford

Retyped from the original newsprint first printed in 3 parts from February 12th-20th, 2002 in the Tropical Star by Columnist, Albert Williams.

In 1974 Reginald St. Havis Shillingford received Dominica’s third highest award, the Sisserou Award, for his long and distinguished career in sports development in this country.

Tropical Star, Wednesday, February 6, 2002

He also served in the public service from 1953 during which time he held a number of positions. As a sportsman his contribution is legendary, and he is particularly renowned for his delectable and informative commentaries, whether on the air or in print. A member of the Music Lovers Government Band, and founding member of a number a number of sports organisations, Havis, as he is more commonly known, has a story to tell, and quite justly is among DBS Radio’s One Hundred Great Dominicans in recognition of his contribution to sports journalism.

Born in Roseau

Born in Roseau, February 26, 1935, Havis recalls his upbringing in rather removed circumstances in comparison to today. Very close to where the Financial Center now stands was the location of the Roseau Mixed School where he had some of his early education, and his love of sports must have been ignited as he rubbed shoulders with his contemporaries. It would be persons like his great-grand aunt, alice Adams, and later on head teachers such as Victor Archer, Zephania Joseph, Nathaniel Jeffers who would influence the young Havis and bend his already keen interest towards the pursuit of excellence, both on and off the field of life.

Sitting on the players pavillion at the Botanic Gardens on a somewhat overcast afternoon, the soft-spoken great, spoke to me of his days at the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) and the rigid discipline that was the order of the day. English Grammar was understandiblyemphazied and so were the great works of literature. But it was through the introduction of sports master, Mr. Ericson Watty, that the young and promising Havis would take a deep and abiding interest in sports and physical education, and as is still very much the case, even 2002, is still an incurable volunteer, and among other things, is actively involved in efforts to reintroduce the sport of boxing on the island.


WILLIAMS: MR. SHILLINGFORD, TAKE US BACK TO THOSE FORMATIVE YEARS, THOSE EPISODES THAT STAND OUT IN YOUR MIND AS HALLMARKS OF YOUR EARLY UPBRINGING?

SHILLINGFORD: I lived, from my earliest recollections with my great-grand aunt Alice Adams who was my guardian after my mother and maternal grandmother had migrated in search of better pastures. My guardian and her sister, amelia, hailed from Layou on the West coast.

I was impressed with the absolute need for acquiring the best education I could obtain. Thus it was imperative to attend school each day, and to pay absolute respect to my school teachers. Earlier on, I attended Miss Lister Giraud’s Infant School on Fields Lane, and Miss Ada Elwin’s School on Cross Street near the State House, then the colonial administrator’s residence. My education continued at the Roseau Mixed School and then the roseau Boys School, eventually tomy attendance at retired school principal, Mr. Zephaniah Joseph’s private school in downtown Roseau. Mr. Joseph was a firm disciplinarian and insisted on absolute dedication to work. From his school I gained a scholarship to attend the Dominica Grammar School (DGS)just before my eleventh birthday.

At the time, the Dominica Grammar School comprised of eighty-four boys and had only one graduate master, the Headmaster, Mr. William G Grayson, an Englishman who taught chemistry. The DGS was situated on Great George St. where the the Roseau Health Center now is. Importantly, there was an inculcation into our youthful sensitivity that the school elevated itself to an extremely high standard. of education, and that by no means would it be lowered for anyone, regardless of background or social standing. You ssat in the class in a numerical position, dictated by the previous term’s examination results. Failure to do your work diligently was sure to result in flogging, about which no dog barked. We didn’t have the luxury of a playing field, but the school had a motto of ‘Mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind, in a healthy body. Thus, there was a tradition of excellence in sports, and this rested, not only on physical discipline and diligent exercise , but equally upon the appropriate use of the mental facilities in determining sporting matters.

One of the fundamental cornerstones of the DGS education was the use of proper grammar and absolute lucidity in expressing one’s self. In fact, you could earn physical punishment by improper speech or behavior outside the school walls.

Tropical Star, Wednesday, February 13, 2002

WILLIAMS: AS A SPORTS JOURNALIST, COACH, ADMINISTRATOR, FOR SO MANY YEARS, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING YOUNGSTERS WHO ARE PERHAPS CONTEMPLATING A CAREER IN ONE OR SEVERAL OF THOSE SPORTING DISCIPLINES.

SHILLINGFORD: The most important thing is to be true to one’s self, to whatever sport which catches your fancy. It will mean acquiring as good a first-hand knowledge as you can about the sport, reading about sports and getting involved. a decent academic and general education will of course, be quite an asset. Your abilities to speak well would would be an aid to your peace of mind even though poverty in this regard seems acceptable these days. It is a matter for your own self-respect and a sense of decency.

WILLIAMS: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN SPORTS WRITING?

SHILLINGFORD: I recall Mr. Stanley Boyd, Former Dominica Tennis Champion, inviting me as Editor to do a sports column and reporting for The Chronicle. One supposes this to be an offshoot of being a radio sports commentator which started for me in 1958 along with Jeff Charles, my long-time buddy. Our first introduction to the microphone was a broadcast of the Windward Island Inter-Schools Tournament at Windsor Park . We got there by default when the official commentators failed to show up after the first two days. there was a natural affinity between radio commentary and journalism in print, so the whole thing evolved along those lines. However, I would regard the basic influence started at the Dominica GRammar School where Mr. Nathaniel Jeffers, and Mr. Joffre Robinson inculcated a desire to express oneself lucidly and intelligently. The gift of love for the English language was generously instilled by these two men who hated to hear the language mutilated.

WILLIAMS: WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE CURRENT SPORT SCENE IN DOMINICA?

SHILLINGFORD: The biggest factor seems to be a lack of discipline on the part of the sportsmen and sportswomen, coaches and sports administrators . Everyone wants everything without expending the required effort in the pursuit of excellence. In this respect you would think the current situation of having around eleven or twelve secondary schools as against only three schools in the forties and fifties, would lead to improvements in the educative approach to sports development. But this unfortunately is not the case. Far from a progressive in our sports at national level, we are faced with serious decline in performances locally, regionally and internationally.

Our secondary schools have not assumed a lead in sports orientation and development of a substantial order. Sports have been given only a peripheral place, not really above the utter marginal. In any case, our education system seems geared only towards regurgitate methods only designed to cater to the passing of exams. One would like to see what one could call an educated product, a better-rounded individual, coming out of our schools. Sports then would benefit the community at large.

WILLIAMS: IF YOU THINK THAT THERE HAS BEEN A SERIOUS DECLINE IN OUR PROGRESS TOWARDS SPORTS DEVELOPMENT, SURELY THE SEEDS OF THIS MAY HAVE BEEN SOWN IN THE PAST

SHILLINGFORD: One of the culprits is more than likely to be detected in the history of Dominica, which has had , repeated migrations of our cream of sporting talent, not to pursue sporting ambitions. Within my memory I recall thousands of young men, away to Aruba and Curacao in the forties and fifties in search of. The same thing happened of an even bigger scale in the fifties and sixties when the grand exodus to England took place. The latter migration happened just when the recovery was just setting to repair the exodus caused by the disappearance of sporting talent in the previous era. More recently, we have have lost many of our better cricketers and footballers who migrate to the USA and Canada to seek employment as bank clerks, engineers, surveyors, bus drivers, policemen, nursestec. The sports drain has not abated and each time there is a serious disruption of continuity as far as the role models are concerned in our field of performance.

WILLIAMS: MR. SHILLINGFORD, WHAT FEATURES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTRODUCED TO SALVAGE OUR SPORTS IN DOMINICA?

SHILLINGFORD: For my part, I would ardently like to see a situation in which every child at school is afforded the opportunity to come under appropriate sporting influences, not merely as an element of recreation or ‘having fun’ or ‘having a sweat’. Even through sports should be fun for anyone involved in it. There ought to be an educative ingredient contained therein. Sports should form a legitimate part of the schools curriculum and some effort to recruit persons with a leaning in this direction as school teachers.

Too often our schools are staffed merely with teachers whose overriding interests is not in being to deliver an excellent education to students under their care, but in using the teaching position as a launching into career opportunities not remotely related to education as a vocation. On the question of funding for sports development we might consider some ways of drawing in our our thriving business houses to see sports as national development. In this regard we ought to have a more liberal scale of contribution toward sports; the building of decent playing fields and their maintenance. The present upswing in drug abuse and the now emerging aspect of gang activity ought to impress on us that all is not well with our youthful population. We may as well do something positive in this regard or face the consequences.

WILLIAMS: RECENTLY WE WITNESSED THE OPENING OF THE NEW SPORTS COMPLEX AT STOCKFARM, AND PLANS ARE ON THE WAY TO UPGRADE BENJAMIN’S PARK IN PORTSMOUTH.

SHILLINGFORD: At one time we had only Windsor Park and Botanic Gardens as national sporting venues. Botanic Gardens ought to have long evolved into a cricket Test facility for the good of our sports, and for the Dominica, as a whole. The demise of the Canefield stadium has been quite a tragedy, and it is difficult to quantify the related consequences to our national development. Some insist there are grave connotations implicit of a lack of intellectual development across the spectrum of our social fabric. When we consider the natural production of talented sportsmen along the West Coast it’s a damning testimony that St. Joseph still does not have a descent playing facility. The youth at Grand Bay, through their forthrightness, have ensured that Geneva field did come along. The same needs to become emphatic at Castle Bruce where the potential is abundant and and elsewhere. In this day and age, any new secondary school ought to be furnished with a substantial playing field as an automatic provision of its basic of its basic facilities. This applies to to the Grand Bay Secondary School, the Castle Bruce Secondary School and the Community High School in specific cases. Even more than this, a new school should be equipped with a functional gymnasium, which could be utilized for a variety of creative pursuits of both a sporting and cultural nature.

WILLIAMS: BETWEEN THE YEARS, 1993-1997, YOU WERE PRESIDENT OF THE DOMINICA OLYMPIC COMMITTEE, WHAT THOUGHTS DID YOU YOU HAVE AS YOU SAW DOMINICA FIELD IT FIRST OLYMPIC ATHLETES?

SHILLINGFORD: Representation in the in the Olympic games? We saw the Dominican contingent and the dignified exuberance displayed by Jerome Romain and others at the Atlanta Stadium. with the Dominica flag flying proudly at the world’s greatest sporting event. Joyce Rabess, General Secretary, and Clifford Severin, Treasurer of the Olympic Committee and myself all thought that we were in our second heaven. for us, we considered Dominica’s debut in the games as the forerunner of great things to come in terms of olympic exploits by all our athletes from a variety of sports disciplines. We were looking for an intense emergence of sporting ambitions back home.

WILLIAMS: ARE WE LIKELY TO PRODUCE ANOTHER STELLAR ATHLETE IN THE LIKES OF JEROME ROMAIN?

SHILLINGFORD: I have no doubt the potential is there what it takes is the right sort of hard work to bring the potential to fruition. Nowadays standards have soared up and up to the point where the world records of only a few years ago have become a commonplace as far as performances go. when I saw Dawn Williams at the 1995 Olympic Games at Atlanta it was clear that she would record potential in the 800 meters. Perhaps she could have broken through better if she had come under regular and appropriate coaching much earlier in her career. The same goes for many others with innate potential. another thing, we need to have need to have far far more track and field athletic competitions and school’s athletics seasons.

WILLIAMS: WHEN YOU RECEIVED THE SISSEROU AWARD IN 1974, DID YOU ENVISION THAT YOU WOULD STILL BE AN ACTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE PARTICIPANT NEARLY THIRTY YEARS LATER?

SHILLINGFORD: I didn’t know the likely extent of my life span, but I never thought that there was much likelihood of my interest in sports ever waning. From active participation there is obviously scope for coaching, administration and journalism. It depends on the growth of the individual, and the growth patterns in sports and the growth of the public. When I started off, there were only cricket, football, netball, and then basketball on the local scene. Today, there is a greater volume as to the number of sports on the scene even though the matter of quality in performance in has suffered. A commentator and journalist must feed off heightened performances in our league competition etc.

WILLIAMS: WHAT MAKES OR BREAKS A COMMENTATOR?

SHILLINGFORD: A good and general education is perhaps the absolute key. In other words, you can be an excellent commentator if you think well, and speak well even if you might be limited as to your sporting background. By the same token, a sweeping knowledge of sports which isn’t backed by due facility with proper expression and breadth of knowledge can be to little avail. Of course, much depends on the educational level of of the listening public. Some people are moved by basic excitement rather depth of the spoken word. This latter factor has taken further root inview of the ever-present ‘comments man.’ In earlier times the commentator were responsible for painting the entire picture unaided by anyone. The position has changed. Still, it is excellent to be on top in the literary manner.

WILLIAMS: IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT RADIO COMMENTATORS ARE VERY ARTICULATE IN THEIR DESCRIPTIONS.

SHILLINGFORD: More so, I would think than their television counterparts. There is an obvious need for the graphic presentation while on radio. And nowadays with the the possible alternation between a radio and television, microphones a commentator requires to be sure of his craft and specific technique. The glaring deficiency we in Dominica face is the absence of sufficient opportunity for the commentator to practice his art. To put is bluntly, you don’t develop quality commentators by exposing them to a handful of assignments during an entire year. All our radio stations and television stations should indulge in more frequent live coverage of sports events, not simply depending on ready-made programmes from overseas.

Tropical Star, Wednesday, February 20, 2002