Ladies & Gentlemen… The Pioneers
JUMP BALL No. 89. By Arlington James
Are you from Dominica's basketball 'ole school' from the 1970s into the 1980s, when we saw intense on-court rivalry between Cardinals, Flames, Green City, Harks, Pros, Wizards and so many other teams who entertained their fans on the Windsor Park stands? If you were associated with that basketball era, then you would most likely have seen or heard of a team named Pioneers, a group of very brave young women who donned shorts and jerseys and decided to enter into the 'man's world' then.
Now, if on the other hand you were a player or a spectator from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s era, then you would probably have played against or been entertained by a different set of Pioneers on the court.
During the mid-to-late 1970s the ladies, who rightly considered themselves pioneers of women's basketball in Dominica made their debut. Seventeen (17) years later a group of male basketball players formed a team and chose to recycle the Pioneers name.
So, let's meet those two groups of Pioneers (♀, ♂) who performed their brand of basketball magic on our courts, albeit during different eras.
Usher in The Ladies: Pepiz Pioneers made history in Dominica's basketball, being the first women's team to participate in the national league. They debuted in 1977, also played in 1978, 1980, and 1983, and took their final jumpers in 1987.
They did not participate in the league in 1982, or from 1984-1986 and it is not certain whether they competed in 1979 or 1981.
In Pioneers (♀) inaugural season, there was no Women's Division, and so the young ladies were assigned to DABA's Junior Division (the equivalent of Division II) which included five (5) other teams, but of male players: Back Street Magicians, Dominica Grammar School Jets, Lakers, Pros Jr. and St. Mary's Academy.
The ladies first got to play against their counterparts, in the Women's league, at least in 1983. Information for 1979 and 1981 is unavailable, as the Women's Division may or may not have been in existence then.
Coincidentally, in Pioneers (♀) final season on the court, once again they were the only women's team in the League and they also played against five teams, similar to how they entered the league, except that this time leaving from Division III.
Alice Jno. Jules was a workhouse on Pioneers (♀), and she was ably assisted by several other young ladies who were also netball players. Pioneers' story was presented in "Pioneers: Trail Blazers For Women's Basketball in Dominica" which was published in The Sun in 2017.
The original Pioneers conceded many defeats, enjoyed their few victories and may not have captured any basketball championships.
Now, Enter The Big Men: The 1994 basketball season saw the arrival of the second Pioneers team on the court, but this one was an all-male team who went on to play exclusively in Division II for 11 seasons, from the year they debuted until their exit from the League in 2004.
In their inaugural season and playing unsponsored Pioneers (♂) immediately added their names to DABA's master list of national basketball champions by capturing the 1994 Division II Knock-Out Championship. However, this was the only piece of silverware that they would show for their eleven seasons participating in the national league.
In Pioneers' debut season Division II comprised 16 teams playing in two zones and the other teams on the 1994 roster were Atkinson Cats, Clouds, Cowboys, Cusport, Flames II, Home Boys, Hoyas II, Magic Touch, Pacers, Rockets, (Dubique) Stars, Timberwolves, Trumps, X-Men and Zebians. Hence, Pioneers would have played against seven of those teams in their Zone in their inaugural season.
The new Pioneers (♂) in the arena included two of the pioneers of basketball in Dominica, in the persons of Patrick "Pembo" Pemberton and Bernard "Kiwi" Thomas both of whom had played in the inaugural 'national' basketball league in 1966. Five of Pioneers' other high-scorers, viz. Dave Baron, Mickey Joseph, Sylvester "Tata" Joseph, Dr. Irving McIntyre and Irving "Tosh" Williams were all former members of Cardinals, a team which had debuted in the national league's third season and which ran the courts until 2004. Additionally, Roland Dublin, Julie Francis, Lennox Jervier and Eddie Prevost - all former national league players – and former Kensborough and national footballer Cuffy Alcid, were all Pioneers' net-burners.
Remarks: JUMP BALL wishes all of the now-retired Pioneers players -both male and female - who donned the maroon or yellow uniforms all the best in their individual endeavours. Some of those players further assisted in the development of Dominica's basketball, in administration and/or in coaching.