“I lived in St Barbs for five years and for those five years I was in direct contact with gang members, gang leaders, I walk out the road a body on the ground. The crime, the violence, it was high. At the time I saw youths around 11 to 12 years old running past me with firearms at those times and it really bothered me seeing that. I have children also,” says Cedric Hazelwood, founder of Laventille United Sports Club.
It was this deplorable state of affairs that prompted Hazelwood to form the Laventille United Sports club in 2007. He said it started with just eight youngsters and one ball.
Hazelwood said as a young man he played football and even rubbed shoulders with former national midfielder Russell Latapy before hanging up his boots 16 years ago for religious reasons.
However, his love for the game, coupled with his fatherly instincts, moved him back on the field.
“It had no seniors taking control or trying to do anything, so I sat and I watched at them. I see the young fellas and I said, we have no future if this happening. I was studying one of these little fellas who was 12 years old, and who could be my son, sticking me up with a gun. So when I looked at the age group that was turning to the violence and crime I decided, well look, I know about football so I wanted to make a difference.”
He went to the then CEO of the sport company and was provided with funding to host a small goal competition on the St Barbs basketball court and this is where he saw that the raw talent and potential of the some of the youths were wasting away.
Not only is he nurturing talent, but he is erasing the borderlines created by gang violence.
“We now having these children crossing the borderlines to play with each other, going out to events and thing and socialising, trying to see that in the near future if they grow together in sport then probably we could break the borderlines down.
It seems his message is hitting home. “This season we have 28 kids between the ages of seven to 15, we have 18 kids from the ages of 16 to 15, and then we have from 25 to like 40, that is our senior team that now moved up to the super league.”
He said that to date at least 800 children have passed through the club.
As the club grew it eventually moved and is now located at the Soogrin Trace recreational grounds.
In 2014 two of his players were selected to represent this country at the under 10 World Cup in Barcelona, Spain.
One of them was Shermar Gray, who started with the club at the age of six.
“Since I was small I liked football. I would see a bottle and go and kick it and from the time the club started my mother decided to join me in the club,” Gray said.
His dream is to one day play for a club in England.
But it won’t come easy—it would require hard work, dedication, and, most of all, discipline.
The latter is one of the main areas of focus for the club.
“We do development. Our training programme is actually a development process. We take kids from straight off the street who never even kick a ball in their life, so there is where we starting the development. You see, football now is a discipline, so once you get the guys to come into the football you get them to put their shirts in their pants, you get them to comb their hair in order to play the football,” Hazelwood said.
He said he also has a vision to make academics an integral part of the club’s developmental programme but will require funding from the public and private sectors.