1976 national basketball team (See story for detailed photo caption)
1976 national basketball team (See story for detailed photo caption)

In the 1970s, many sports enthusiasts in the 4-nation Windward Islands sub-regional grouping eagerly looked forward annually to the Windward Islands Cricket Tournament, then to support the Windward Islands, followed by the Combined Islands Teams in regional cricket. There was also the Windward Islands Football Championships – the Popham Tournament. However, in the mid-1970s, Windward Islands Basketball entered the Windwards' sporting arena! That was six years before the advent of the CARICOM Basketball Championships, in which Dominica participated on multiple occasions but never came physically close to our shores.

Jump Ball article No. 30, "Dominica in Sub-Regional Basketball," presented a synopsis of Dominica's involvement in Windward Islands basketball. The article was published in The SUN on June 12 and 19th, 2018. Jump Ball now beams the spotlight directly on that Windward sports initiative.

'WINDWARDS' FORMATIVE YEARS: The inaugural Windward Islands Basketball Tournament involved all four Windward Islands and was held in St. Lucia in June 1975, 49 years ago this year. Dominica emerged in second place, losing only our final match to Grenada, the first champions of Windwards basketball.

The first team to fly Dominica's State Flag at the Windwards Tournament was captained by 'Mr. Basketball Himself', Wilmoth "Plastic" LeBlanc. The rest of the team comprised: Oliver "Neckers" Burton, Seibert Didier, Alphonso "Fanso" Etienne, Oliver Grell, Augustus "Stepfoot" Harris, Clem Jno. Baptiste, Blaize "Arrow" Jones, Trevor "Hola" Knight, Charles "Charlo" Roberts and Cuthbert Williams (deceased).

The team was coached by George Daniel, managed by Carlisle Elwin and sponsored by Gordon's Gin through Local Dealers - H.H.V. Whitchurch & Co.

Dominica was judged the Best-Dressed Team and Most Offensive Team in that historic tournament. We blew out St. Lucia (67-28) and destroyed St. Vincent (103-33) but lost by only 4 Points (49-53) to Grenada in Overtime. The team scored a total of 219 Points in its three matches to 114 against, for a Goal Average of 1.9211.

Following the conclusion of that tournament, an 11-man Windwards Team was selected, with the latter including no less than seven Dominicans: players Alphonso Etienne, Augustus Harris, and Clem Jno. Baptiste, Trevor Knight, Charles Roberts and Cuthbert Williams (deceased), with George Daniel serving as Coach/Manager. The team undertook a short tour of Trinidad, where they engaged Sunjets in a couple of friendly matches.

The Windwards Team was sponsored by Guinness (Caribbean) Limited, which contributed the team's uniforms; local agents for Guinness at the time were Messers O.D. Brisbane & Sons.

The following year, 1976, the tournament moved up to the 'Nature Isle', Dominica, and the Windsor Park Hardcourts came ablaze with action among three Windwards teams. Grenada, St. Lucia and hosts Dominica.

According to The Star Dominica of June 11, 1976, "The Windward Islands basketball championship was wrenched from Grenada at Windsor Park on June 6 after a close final." Dominica defeated St. Lucia by 21 Points (62-41) and clinched Grenada by 4 Points (77-73); that was the same margin by which the Nature Islanders had lost to the Spice Islanders (Grenada) in 1975.

That history-making Dominica side comprised: George Andrew (deceased), Oliver Burton (Captain), Alphonso Etienne, Augustus Harris, and Clem Jno. Baptiste, Trevor Knight, Wilmoth LeBlanc (Coach), Emanuel Loblack, Charles Roberts, Henry Shillingford, Peter Skerrit and Augustus "Perez" St. Hilaire. The members of that team were recognized by the Dominica Amateur Basketball Association in 2011.

THE HIATUS: Following that very positive start to the Windward Islands Basketball campaign, with two successful championships under the Islanders' belts, Windwards Basketball remained off the courts for almost a decade-and-a-half (a 14-year hiatus, from 1977 through 1990) until the tournament's revival in 1991. ACTION RETURNS: The Windward Islands Basketball Tournament returned to the court in 1991, with Grenada grabbing its second championship in three editions thus far. The following year (1992), St. Vincent hosted, and Grenada again won—their third from four editions—leaving Dominica in third place.

In 1993, Dominica hosted the event at which all four islands were represented. Under Jason Richards's captaincy, Coach Marcellus Lee's direction and Ibrahim Brohim's management, Dominica emerged Champions without losing a match (3-0). In The New Chronicle of June 18 1993, Columnist Havis Shillingford noted, "Congratulations and hats off to the Dominica basketball team for pulling off the 1993 Windward Islands Basketball Championship! It was a triumph that came like water to a drought-stricken nation, thirsty and hungry from the effects of a long famine…" The then-popular WCK band, a lapo kabwit, A&M Hi-Fi, and cheerleaders entertained the large, partisan crowd at Windsor Park on the final night when Dominica challenged Grenada.

Photo caption: STANDING (L-R): Wilmoth LeBlanc, George Andrew (deceased), Charles Roberts, Alphpnso Etienne, Trevor Knight, Clem Roberts STOOPING: Henry Shillingford, Augustus St. Hilaire, Peter Skerrit, Oliver Burton and Emanuel Loblack

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