By Michael Benjamin
Cliff Matthew Anderson closed his eyes decades ago, on December 2, 1998 at the Davis
Memorial Hospital, having used up his ‘allotted’ years of three scores and ten. He was 77 years old. Merely one year prior to his demise Cliff, as he preferred to be called, had the honour of witnessing the then National Sports Hall, rechristened the ‘Cliff Anderson Sports Hall.’
It may oxymoronic to describe the rechristening as ‘cruel kindness’ since Cliff had lived long enough to ‘see’ the change of name of that Homestretch Avenue building simply because at the time of its inauguration he had unfortunately lost his sight and was guided by a stick and shepherded around by close family members.
Many of the contemporary boxers would not have had a personal interaction with Cliff since they were either still to be born or mere tots at his demise. The older boxers, most of them retired from the ring, would have fond memories of his teachings and his modus operandi of dispensing boxing knowledge.
For me, Cliff represents my career choice as it was he that had taught me to throw my first punch, the left jab. It was just around the latter part of 1977 and I had just written the Common Entrance exams (now the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations), and was a first former at the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School. During Assembly one Monday morning, the headmaster, the late Clement Sylvester, introduced this short dumpy fellow and informed us that he was there to recruit interested students to impart the finer art of boxing. The invitation was only for males as the world was not so liberal and females donning gloves was simply unheard of. I was among a large group whose hands shot up in the air when asked to indicate an interest.
Training in the fistic sport was a key part of my development as boxing, under the direction of Cliff, was grafted into the school’s academic programme.
During those days, sports had formed an integral part of school life and participation in every discipline was compulsory. I played football, cricket, table tennis, hockey and a myriad of disciplines since the school’s curriculum made providence for such activity.
Things have changed drastically and sports seem to have been reduced to a footnote in the schools’ curriculum. Yes, a few schools have managed to sustain a vibrant sports programme but I am basically examining this issue from a broader perspective of government support in conjunction with the corporate community.
A few years ago, I returned to my alma mater and suggested to those administrators the resuscitation of a boxing programme where the students would be taught the art of the fistic sport. While these administrators were delighted by the idea and while the children were just as enthusiastic, there arose the usual red tape of soliciting the permission of those administrators at the Ministry of Education in Brickdam. I had raised this issue with the former Chief Education Officer, Olato Sam, but his promise to ventilate it is still to bear fruit.
The current Chief Education Officer, Marcelle Hutson, is an ardent boxing supporter. He might have only just been harboring ambitions for his current vocation, way back in the 70s, when we met at the East Ruimveldt Secondary School, where Cliff had re-sited his gym. Hutson was a lover of the sport and if my mind serves me correctly, had been an active participant at one time. I remember him hanging out with another pugilist of East Ruimveldt, Reynald McBean, during daily training sessions. It would be interesting to know how the CEO views the sport within the school’s curriculum.
The Guyana Boxing Association (GBA), under the stewardship of Steve Ninvalle, is vested with the responsibility of crafting initiatives towards the boxers’ advancement. There has been much talk about development within the nursery. Indeed, schoolboys (of various institutions) have participated in the GBA/DDL/Pepsi U-16 tournament which is a definite plus. However, Mr. Ninvalle may find it prudent to view the situation from a more holistic, all-encompassing basis; he might find it more beneficial to engage education officials in discussions with an aim of broadening his aspirations towards the young boxers’ development.
There is a belief that many of our contemporary pugilists lack the educational foundation necessary for life; they are too busy addressing boxing concerns while neglecting their academic foundation. Boxing in the schools could address this worrying issue while producing rounded citizens with both academic and sports proclivities.
Just over a week ago one of our local (amateur) coaches, Sebert Blake, initiated a tournament at the Forgotten Youth Foundation Boxing gym (FYF) where school aged boxers displayed their wares. Most of the participants are from among the proletariat and welcomed the opportunity to express themselves, doing what they were best at, all within the confines of the law.
It would be refreshing to see members of the corporate community becoming involved and it would be even more refreshing if officials of the Ministry of Education could collaborate with GBA officials to authenticate such an initiative.
Cliff Matthew Anderson represents more than just punches; he has established an institution where boxing encompassed an integral part of the academic curriculum. Cliff often referred to the sport as a microcosm of life.
The history books document that Cliff, though not into academics, recognized the need for personal academic elevation and took a course of boxing for sport coaches and physical education, Professors of America in Mexico City from August to September of 1976.
The CASH was re-christened after him on December 5, 1997 in a simple ceremony witnessed by then President Janet Jagan, former Minister of Sport, Dr. Dale Bisnauth and Guyana’s sole Olympics medalist, Michael Anthony Parris.
Yes, Cliff is dead but his legacy lives on through the (coaching) input of many of his protégés. Cliff was no scholar but he instilled the need for education; his efforts at the many educational institutions bear testimony of his passion for the sport and his belief that education should be incorporated into the boxers’ activities. A schools boxing programme would be fitting acknowledgement of the aspirations of a great local hero not to mention, a fillip for young punchers attempting to establish themselves as worthwhile citizens within the mainstream.
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