Pros: They were the pride of Sout' City in basketball
Sout' City Grand Bay has much to be proud of. Among others, they have produced Midnight Groovers - the "Kings of Cadence", La Jeune Etoille Chorale, Tradibelle Cultural Group, singing sensation Michele Henderson, a Prime Minister, and a basketball team of much acclaim. That team, PROS, was popularly known as Bata Pros, Bata Shoe Store having been their first sponsor even before they made their debut in the national league in February 1973. Pros were the second out-of-town team, and the second team from Grand Bay, to play in the national league in Roseau. Their forerunner on both fronts, Nationals, which included players such as Embert Stowe (Capt.), Augustus St. Hilaire, Patrick Henderson, Adam Henderson, Lewis Letham, Roy Tonge, Willie Fevrier and Lionel Laville among others, was formed in 1968 and last played in the national league two years before the "birth" of Pros.
Formed in mid-1972, in the days when the Dominica Amateur Sports Association (DASA) national basket-ball league was played at the St. Mary's Academy hard courts, Pros' first uniform colours was green with white then yellow trimmings. They stuck to that colour scheme almost to the very end, when they changed to black with coloured trimmings with their penultimate change of sponsor and the latter requesting the new colour scheme to match the product being advertised. Throughout their existence the team carried the following sponsors' products' names: Bata, Heineken, Malta Heineken, Dragon Stout, and finally Sobe.
Pros made quite a name for themselves in national basketball, and from "early o'clock" they sent out a strong message to all and sundry that while they had come to Roseau to play 'ball, they did not come to play marble-hole with their opponents. This they demonstrated in no uncertain terms by winning their first national league match, on Wednesday 7th February 1973 against Raiders, with a score of 42-40. Pros' Patrick Henderson and Augustus St. Hilaire top-scored with 22 and 14 Pts respectively (i.e. totalling 36 of the team's 42 points), and that match was played only minutes following the season-opener. Pros' inaugural (1973) season also saw them more than doubling some of their opponents' scores. They crushed Roseau Concords 59-22, and trampled SMA Gales 75-36 (i.e. 2.68 and 2.08 times their opponents' scores in those two encounters).
By the end of their entry season, Bata Pros had emerged second in the 1973 DASA Basketball League; Runner-up in the 1973 Knock-Out competition; were the 4th most offensive team (averaging 57.2 Pts / game); the 4th most defensive team (conceding 47.4 Pts / game); and they had 3 of the top twelve highest aggregate scorers in the national league that year. Two members of their team, in the persons of Lambert Henderson and Augustus St. Hilaire, were selected onto the 1973 Dominica national basketball team.
Pros continued to impress their fans and rumple and crush many an opponent in the Division I league in 1974, and went on to capture the coveted League Championship in only their second season! Morchrsiton, the sports trio-columnists, wrote in the basketball segment of the StarSports column in The Star Dominica of May 24, 1974, "Bata Pros climaxed their winning of their championship which Caroni Cardinals had dominated by convincing (ly) whipping DGS 97-46." In the second half of that match, Pros scored 59 Pts, more than tripling their opponents' score which was kept to a paltry 18 Pts.
Over the years, Pros produced several players who proudly sported Dominica's national colours. One will remember the record-setting Lambert "Lambie" Henderson (deceased) – father of local singing sensation, Michele Henderson – scoring 58 Pts in a league match; Augustus "Perez" St. Hilaire; Blaize "Arrow" Jones; his "Double-Trouble" Moore brothers, Garry and Anicet a.k.a. "Gorvan"; another set of brothers, Swinburn Anselm and Ryan "Ian" Anselm; Patrick Grell, who captained the Dominica National Basketball Team for three years; Stephen "Homo" Bellot* (deceased); and more recently Ted "Shaba" George, Shamal Tonge and Ramal Carbon. Two other distinguished members of Pros were Patrick "Jockey" Henderson (Lambert's brother) who subsequently became the local Peace Corps Director, and of course, Pierre "Pierro" Charles (deceased) – with his signature hook-shot from the corner of the court – who went on later to be sworn in as Dominica's 6th Prime Minister in October 2000.
Pros were not always a 100% Grand Bay-based team, and two non-Grand Barians who played for the team for short periods were starting Centre Brian "Fanny" Peters (of Newtown, and of Harlem Bombers football fame), and Point Guard Richard "Richie" Joseph (of La Plaine and USVI).
Pros' first coach was Patrick Henderson - one of their own players. Subsequently, other persons who "held the clipboard" and managed the team's bench included Sylvester "Wong-Ping" Defoe, Stephen Bellot who served as player-coach, and Ryan Anselm.
Pros inspired the formation of other teams from Grand Bay in lower Divisions in the National League viz., Pros II and Sixty-Sixers in Division II; Smashers and Home Boys in Division III; Grand Bay Primary School in the 16 & Under Division in 1988; and Madech Sisters/Pros in the 1980s and Lady Pros more recently.
Pros' popularity and prowess also influenced the formation of basketball teams in neighbouring communities in southern Dominica, more specifically in Dubique and Pichlen, from whence emerged Dubique Stars and Pacers respectively; both teams competed in Division II.
At the community level, Pros also organized an Under-16 Basketball League in Grand Bay (for two years), as well as several editions of the Grand Bay League, which attracted teams from Grand Bay proper, Pichelin, Dubique, Tete Morne, the then Grand Bay Secondary School, and a team from Roseau.
Heineken Pros also set a record in the National League when, in April 1978, they trounced Starlights 136 Pts to 58.
During their glory days, Pros had quite a following, and their loyal fans from Grand Bay (sometimes as many as three bus-loads) often journeyed down to the Windsor Park to support their "boys". However, they also had many supporters from Roseau and environs.
One of Pros' overseas tours was to St. Lucia, where they engaged a team from St. Mary's College – St. Lucia's top club at the time, and a "make-shift" St. Lucia National Team. Interestingly, the air fares for that particular tour were sponsored by John Keller, who was also the sponsor of the J.K. Eagles teams in the DABA National League in the 1980s.
Pros proudly carried the accolade of having been the longest-serving basketball team in Dominica, outlasting the Cardinals by almost a decade, although they (Pros) stayed off the court for a couple of years. Playing from the decade of the 1970s, Pros appeared on the League, Knock-Out then Play-Offs fixtures of the DASA, then the DABA, for just under forty years, bouncing their last (?) ball on the court as Pros before the final buzzer went in DABA's 2014 Season. Will we ever see a second return of Pros to the court? Only time will tell!
*Apart from contributing to Pros and to the National Team as a player, "Homo" (deceased) also trained many young Forwards and Centre-men from Grand Bay in rebounding, posting up, and defending the post. Bellot was also considered a sort of local "Michael Jordan", playing as a ball-handler and shooting guard, and was noted for his long shots, including the occasional 3-Pointer from the centre-line. Stephen "Homo" Bellot played competitive basketball up into his 50s, almost up until his passing in May 2012.
Information contained in this article was sourced from interviews/discussions with Ryan Anselm and Willie Fevrier, correspondence with Blaize Jones, and from the Draft of "Dominica's Basketball From The Archives" (a compilation of newspaper items on basketball from The Star and The Chronicle, 1968 – 1978) by Arlington James, which in preparation stage in 2016.
By Arlington James