For the last 34 years — 11 of which I was The BVI Beacon’s sportswriter — I told everyone that I was the second Beacon sportswriter behind Karl Dawson since the paper was founded in June 1984.
But I recently learned differently. While responding to Julio Jiminez’s social media post about the Byrds softball team in September, Karl told me that his brother Ken wrote before him.
I’d been speaking to Ken frequently and sharing radio reports involving his son Kennard, a Georgia State University catcher, and I knew his sports interest, but he never hinted that he ever wrote an article and was a Beaconite.
“Well, actually, I wasn’t the first Beacon sportswriter,” Ken told me as I listened in shock, knowing I was falling off the sports writing podium. “Actually, it was Brother Mel [Pastor Melvin Turnbull] who wrote the first article.”
“Brother Mel?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, and he was a good pitcher too,” Ken added.
After speaking with Brother Mel and hearing the excitement in his voice, the idea came to gather everyone so I could hear how each became a Beaconite.
“There was a time in the BVI not too long ago whenever anybody wanted anything done — I mean anything done — especially in sports, they always called me,” Brother Mel explained. “I started off in sports with the Sand Hoods in Cane Garden Bay. We had some teams from town who think they were bad, but when I went up against them, I had kind of a delusional pitch. I had a fast wind-up, so those boys swung long before the ball reached. So I shot them down.”
Brother Mel said he’s a sports enthusiast and particularly loves baseball and softball, but he’s not much of a basketball player. He recalled a 1984 discussion with Michelle Abbott-Smith, niece of Beacon Founding Editor Linnell M. Abbott, after which he began writing a weekly column and he got drafted into sports somehow.
“In fact, it was my brother here, Ken, who reminded me, as I didn’t remember because I was doing so many things that I don’t always remember what I did,” he said. “Well, I guess I basically used to keep the score, let them know who played, when, who won, who lost, how many homeruns etcetera, etcetera. Just keeping the people informed as to the sports and the fact that it was very much alive back then. I’m hoping we can somehow get back to that level.”
Though he doesn’t remember the full details, Ken said he recalled having a conversation with Brother Mel, his cousin, between Chase and Barclays banks — now First Bank and First Caribbean International Bank — and the next thing he knew, he was writing sports.
Keeping late hours was a challenge in covering sports.
“I think it was a short stint, but I did enjoy the time of writing,” he said. “It kind of conflicted with my main job [at Barclays], so I didn’t keep it up. But I remember writing mostly about softball which was going on at that time. It would be interesting for me to get the back issues and see what went on.”
Wearing many hats
Ken said he also assisted the Beacon in several other capacities, as it was a fledging paper at the time.
“I remember one thing in particular, when the cultural centre got the piano on stage and I wrote the byline for it,” he fondly recalled. “‘Timely delivery of baby grand.’ That I remember. Not sports related, but that just goes to show how I was involved in other activities around the Beacon at that time.”
Karl recalled the Tuesday deadline for getting sports to the Beacon, which was printed in St. Thomas at the time, to be back on Thursday and Ken’s job conflict.
“That’s when I started writing. It was the summer of 1984. I would have just graduated from high school, wasn’t working as yet, so I had a little bit more time on my hands, so I started to write under his name,” Karl remembers. “It was still Kenneth Dawson as the writer, but I was the one who was actually doing the writing. Then I eventually switched over to my own name. I did that for two years until 1986, when I went off to the University of the West Indies. Then you [Dean Greenaway] picked up.”
‘Really good time’
Karl described his tenure as a “really good time writing on a range of things.”
“A lot of softball, a lot of basketball, track and field, tennis — just about anything that was happening to write about,” he said. “A couple memorable interviews: one with Kenny ‘Funny’ Thomas, who in the eighties was one of the top basketball players locally. A softball interview which I really enjoyed was with top softball player Bert ‘Big Man’ Henley. Even as I stand here on the E. Walwyn Brewley Softball Park and look out by J&L where homeruns would go out over here, Bert said when he pitches, it’s like the ball is a part of him. When he pitches and the ball goes in, it’s not like he’s separated from the ball — he is actually with the ball — so what happens with the ball happens to him. When the ball gets hit hard for a homerun, he said he’d go home feeling mashed up, because he’s a part of the pitch which never leaves him.”
Karl said he thought that it was a great expression from Bert — one of the best pitchers the Virgin Islands has ever seen.
Karl added that it was and still is important to appreciate all the people who have come from everywhere and contributed to the writing of the Beacon through the years.
“But when you have local people telling the story from a local perspective, I think it adds a particular perspective, a particular value to that,” he said. “I must commend you for your 11 years. Brother Mel did one or two weeks, Ken did four or five, I did two years. I don’t know how Brother Mel got on the podium with gold, Ken with silver, I with bronze and you’re off the podium, but you’re the man who really carried the sports.”