AUGUSTUS "STEP-FOOT" HARRIS:Once a Basketball Hustler
JUMP BALL: Part XI- A peek at local basketball then and now
By Arlington James
'Old-school' members of Dominica's basketball fraternity, including retired players and followers of the sport on the local scene, would know him for his high-intensity games. Younger persons would know him as a basketball official, running the touch-lines on many a hard court around Dominica. Yes. Augustus "Step-Foot" Harris was one of several household names in basketball here, and although he has retired from the game, he is proud of the contributions he made towards the development of the sport on Dominica.
Augustus began his 41-year involvement with basketball in 1971 when, as a pupil of the Roseau Boys' School, he used to play on the newly constructed basketball court at the Windsor Park.
With his skills, Harris soon got to playing competitive basketball and was actually a founder-member of By-Trinee Flames when they made their debut in 1974. He also captained that team from its first season, and in quick time Flames would come to be dubbed, "the new rivals of the legendary Cardinals".
Step-Foot remained with Flames for five years or so, by which time they had made their presence felt in local basketball, having captured both League and Knock-Out Championships (in separate years). He later moved over to Harks from around 1978 and remained with that team until he folded his uniform just prior to the formation of Blazers.
Harris, with his best game-score ever being in the 20 points range, and playing in the position of Guard, considers himself to have been more of a defensive player. For about four consecutive seasons, and other years, he was awarded the Hustler's Cup as best defensive player in the national basketball league. 'Steppie' had also played in the DABA Off-Season League, as well as in community leagues in Trafalgar and Grand Bay on teams of "Roseau" players.
It must be noted that shortly after Harris entered the national league he was selected onto Dominica's national basketball team and wore Sisserou Land's colours for eight consecutive years.
Steppie was also part of Dominica's team that participated in the inaugural Windward Islands Basketball Tournament in 1975, in Grenada. And, together with five other Dominican players, Harris was selected on the first-ever Windward Islands Basketball Team in the history of the sport in the sub-region. That Windwards team, comprising 11 players and coached by Dominica's George Daniel, made a short tour to Trinidad from Grenada, immediately following the Windwards Tournament. He also toured with Dominica's team to invitational tournaments in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Augustus, now in his late 50s, recalls that his most memorable local basketball game was one against Cardinals, while playing for Flames in their formative years. Cardinals was "the team to beat" then, and he recalls Flames winning that game after that encounter had gone down to the wire. But Harris' all-time, most memorable game was one he played for Dominica in Guadeloupe when, coming in as a substitute for an injured player, he made a fantastic move to prevent a ball from going out-of-bounds; that move had heads spinning. The clip of that move was shown on Guadeloupe's TV stations and replayed repeatedly, with the move being dubbed the "flying mountain chicken".
Augustus also participated, together with Lambert Henderson (now deceased) of Pros, as part of a larger Caribbean group, in the basketball component of a sports training programme in Venezuela in the 1980s.
Apart from contributing to the sport as a player, Harris also wore three coaching caps. He proudly boasts of having coached the first-ever women's basketball team in Dominica, Pepiz Pioneers. He directed that team, comprising senior netballers, when they made their maiden court appearance in 1977.
In the early 1990s, "Sir" Harris also coached Dominica's Basketball School Team that participated in the Windward Islands Inter-Secondary Schools Tournament when the latter was held in Dominica. Players such as Jeffrey Joseph, Herminus Reid, Jason Richards, Donnie Robinson and others featured on that team.
But, more importantly, Augustus served as head coach for the national basketball team for the 2nd OECS Basketball Championship which was held in Antigua in 1985.
In local basketball circles Augustus Harris was also very well known as a referee. After having been trained by Carlisle Elwin – then a player-referee in the national league in the 1970s, Harris took up officiating even while still an active player and blew his first whistle in the DABA Off-Season League some time in the 1970s; the following year he occasionally officiated in the national basketball league.
Step-Foot served as a player-referee for several seasons and continued as a referee long after his retirement as a player, giving many years of dedicated service in that aspect of the sport. Of course, basketball players and fans alike will surely remember Step-Foot's classic, signature signalling of a charging foul! No one else could signal that foul like Steppie!
Harris's officiating engagements took him to courts at Portsmouth, Marigot, Trafalgar and several other "basketball centres" around the island, officiating both national league and Schools League games.
However, before hanging up his whistle in the 2013 League, Harris had also officiated in regional basketball competitions held in Dominica, viz. the OECS, Windward Islands and Champion-of-Champions Tournaments, as well as the Windward Islands Inter-Schools (Basketball) Games.
And, quite apart from spending so much energy running up and down the courts and enforcing the rules of the game, Harris also served Dominica's basketball in an administrative capacity, firstly as the first-ever Vice-President of the now defunct Dominica Basketball Officials Association (DBOA) and then as President of that association for two 2-year terms.
One of Step-Foot's keep-fit activities was hiking. He was a 'founder-member' of the Movers (initially called Anti-Peristaltic Movers) that hiked – most times without using transportation – to areas such as Emerald Pool, Wotten Waven & Trafalgar Falls, Middleham Falls, Soufriere Sulphur Springs, Boiling Lake, Freshwater & Boeri Lakes, Morne Anglais' summit, and Jaco Flats in the Heights of Belles.
Movers started off as a group of basketballers from several teams in the national league but subsequently expanded to include a few siblings and associates. Other players in that adventurous group were Adolphus David, Arlington James, Charles Roberts, Eustace Bellot, Hartley Henderson, Irving Williams, Jonathan Prevost, Oliver Burton and Peter Skerrit.
Moving away from basketball, Step-Foot is also well-known for his famous rum-punches and his finger-licking barbecue chicken. In the 1990s he was co-owner of Good Times Barbecue at Check Hall, and Bay Lime Rotisserie on the Bay Front. His other extra-curricular, non-basketball activities include soft-shoe football and soft-ball cricket.
When asked about his thoughts about basketball in Dominica today, Harris was quick to note that moving basketball out of the Windsor Park did a great injustice to Dominica's basketball. He also noted that generally, the current crop of players confuse FIBA rules with NBA rules, and as a result are fundamentally under-prepared, are technically deficient in terms of the laws of the game, and some players do not respect game officials.