By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WALKING back into the AF Adderley Gymnasium for the opening ceremonies of the 36th Hugh Campbell Basketball Classic brought back some fond memories for Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg.
Bowleg, who started out as a basketball player for the AF Adderley Fighting Tigers when they were a high school, ventured into coaching, before he became the president of the Bahamas Basketball Federation and eventually emerged into politics.
Bowleg, who captured a pair of back-to-back titles with the CC Sweeting Cobras in 2012 and 2013 and again in 2015 and 2016, said he’s been constantly asked if he misses coaching and he would consistently say “no.”
But upon hearing the roar of the crowd in the mystique AF Adderley Gymnasium on Monday morning, Bowleg said he felt the adrenaline that he experienced in the past and had a change of heart about whether or not he missed coaching.
He stated empathically that he “did.”
Bowleg was declaring the weeklong tournament for senior boys open.
In its return after not playing for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the games will be played at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Bowleg commended Alsworth “Whitey’ Pickstock, who convinced Fighting Tigers’ head coach Doug Collins that they should start the tournament to raise funding for their athletic programme.
The idea was accepted by principal Hugh Campbell and gave birth in 1992 when the LW Young Golden Eagles, also a high school team then, won the first title under coach Walter Rand and led by most valuable player Bernard.
It was during one of the tournaments that he was playing in, Bowleg said he found his wife on the basketball court in AF Adderley Gym and they have been married for the past 18 years.
In his brief address, Bowleg said he’s also delighted to have been able to serve as a coach for some of the coaches, who will be coaching their respective teams in the tournament. Among the list were Dario Burrows of the Bahamas Association of Independent Secondary Schools’ champions Charles W Saunders, Dastyn Baker, now coaching at CC Sweeting and Ernest Saunders, the head coach, of the Jordan Prince Williams Falcons.
With teams from Jordan Prince Williams, Government High, RM Bailey, Charles W Saunders, CC Sweeting, CV Bethel, Anatol Rodgers and CI Gibson all in attendance, Bowleg declared the tournament open. He also shot the ceremonial shot from the free throw line, but missed the first two before converting the final one.
Pickstock, who was also among the list of dignitaries on hand, said he was pleased to see the tournament return because it provides an opportunity for the young men to develop their skills, especially against their counterparts who come in from Grand Bahama and some of the Family Islands.
“The whole idea for establishing this tournament was for the players to have some camaraderie among themselves,” Pickstock said. “The advent of bringing in Freeport was to take the tournament to another level from a national perspective.”
Grand Bahama teams participated in the tournament for the first time the following year in 1983 when the Catholic High Crusaders, coached by Gladstone ‘Moon’ McPhee, won. In fact, Grand Bahama teams won the next two with the Hawksbill High Hawks, coached by the late Errol Bodie and the Eight Mile Rock Bluejays, coached by Gary McIntosh, were the 1994 and 1995 champions.
The tournament was cancelled in 1986 when there was a dispute with the high school coaches, forcing a split with the government and private schools and the formation of the Government Secondary Schools Sports Association (GSSSA) and the Bahamas Association of Independent Secondary Schools (BAISS).
When the tournament resumed in 1987, the host AF Adderley Fighting Tigers, coached by Collins, went on to become the first two-peat champions before there was a dominance of the Grand Bahamian teams up to 1997 when the CR Walker Knights, coached by Trevor Grant, returned the title to New Providence.
In that span of Grand Bahama success, Jimmy Clarke coached Hawksbill High to the first of three-peats from 1992-1994.
The only other team to three-peat was the CI Gibson Rattlers, coached by Kevin ‘KJ’ Johnson, with their feat from 2004-2007.
Following Bowleg’s two-straight from 2012-2014 with CC Sweeting, the Tabernacle Baptist Falcons, coached by Kevin Clarke, won it consecutively in 2017-2018.
Clarke also played for the Falcons, whose coach then was Norris Bain when they won it back-to-back in 2009-2010.
Bain, who won his first two straight in 1995 and 1996, is listed as the winningest coach in the tournament, having won six titles. Bowleg, Johnson and Clarke have each captured four crowns, albeit Clarke is the first to win with two different teams after he came to New Providence and led the Knights to their victory in 1997.
The defending champions of the tournament are the Doris Johnson Mystic Marlins, coached by Denycko Bowles.
Since then, Bowles has been moved to Anatol Rodgers where he is coaching the Timberwolves.
The Mystic Marlins are now coached by Kevon Spence.
Comedian Das Quay served as the master of ceremonies for the opening, which featured entertainment by the AF Adderley School Band and cheerleaders, the Royal Bahamas Police Pop Band and musician Julian Believe.
Theophilus Claridge, a former principal at AF Adderley and now the Southern District superintendent, brought remarks on behalf of Dominique Russell, the director of education, science and technology.
Also in attendance was Belinda Wilson, the president of the Bahamas Union of Teachers.