Pull Quote: “Sports can help you in all contexts; it helps you to meet and interact with people. Without sports, I don’t think you can make it because sports is part of the curriculum. Sports is a sector that you must have and I think people, including the government, are really taking sports serious.”
By Sharmain Grainger
What do you call someone who lives and breathe sports? The answer is simple! That person is called Johnny ‘Overseas’ Barnwell. Many of you may know of him, but do you really know this ‘down to earth’ character who has long recognized that sports, any sport for that matter, sho
uld be a staple in every individual’s life.
This, Barnwell is convinced, is important for one to have a balance being. Moreover, he has over the years been rooting for youths, and adults too, to fully embrace sports throughout their life span. “Academics alone can’t do it for you, you need some sports in your life to be a whole individual,” a passionate Barnwell recently intimated.
Now 73 years old, Barnwell, who has held down careers in sport for close to half of his life, insists that he will continue to drive home the importance of sports until the Creator is ready to take him to the great beyond.
His unbridled love for sports has over the years seen him deliberating gaining vast knowledge by participating in a gamut of training programmes, including sports administration. Currently he shares his expert knowledge with students of one of the country’s most prestigious schools – Queen’s College- where he fills the position of Games Master and Physical Education teacher. Outside of his school duties he has been known to organize a barrage of sporting activities across the country ranging from domino to football comp
But exactly who is this sports fanatic who has been monikered ‘Johnny Overseas Barnwell’. No, he wasn’t born with that name, but it did come about because of his many travels to overseas lands to do just what he loves – organize, coach and certainly enjoy sporting events.
Born John Anthony Barnwell on April 14, 1946 to Yvonne Alleyne and Leyland Barnwell, he was the eldest of five children. According to Barnwell, even today his sister Lucille and her husband Arnold continue to support his passion for sports.
He remembers well growing up in King Street, Georgetown, and recalled that at a very young age he had a burning desire for things sports. He attended the St. George’s and Winifred Primaries and the Demerara and St Mary’s High schools. He made no bones about showcasing his passion for sports during his schooling days. But he really became enthralled with cricket in particular back in the day through his association with an uncle who played cricket. His uncle, Pelham Alleyne, was the captain of two cricket teams – Bartica and Fogarty’s – and as Barnwell recalls it, “he used to take me around a lot with him.”
So versed he became in cricket, both playing and understanding the rules, that by the age of nine, Barnwell had taken on the role of a scorer for the game. He soon incorporated playing football into his sports passion and before long was also playing basketball as well.
Sports, he recalled, became an ingrained part of his existence. “Since I was young I was always involved in sports…I was always anxious to play sports, and any sports too,” said Barnwell who went on to explain that it wasn’t just about being picked to be on a team but rather he had an innate desire to be a leader in sports. This of course was driven by his public speaking ability which developed alongside his sporting proclivity.
But even as he dabbled in sports, Barnwell was also learning a bit of mechanical engineering a skill which his father possessed. “My father used to work with the Shell and Esso companies and then Shelter Belt and I used to go around with him sometimes and I learnt a lot from him,” said Barnwell who was convinced he would have ventured into that profession eventually.
However, fate had other plans for Barnwell. By the time he was out of school and was eyeing the world of work, Barnwell recalled that his father passed away. This essentially ruined his chance at getting a job where his father was working at the time. He, moreover, decided to enlist in the Guyana Defence Force [GDF].
At the time of joining the army back in 1972, Barnwell was clueless that his knowledge of sports would become an asset. He was asked to be a part of the Sports Department and naturally was in the forefront of sporting activities there too. “Anywhere I went I always wanted to include sports and being in the army was no different…I did a lot at the army and learnt a whole lot there too,” he confided. He recalled touring with the GDF football team and even recalled doing so in the company of the now Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Mr. Joseph Harmon, who was a member of the force back in the day.
“I travelled the whole of Guyana, I went to Trinidad, Barbados and Suriname and other countries too,” said Barnwell as he joked about being nicknamed ‘Overseas’ as a result.
Although he was happy to be a part of the army, Barnwell knew that he needed to do much more for sports. “I just had this desire to do more in sports…anywhere I go and I see any sports I would just fall in,” he recounted as he recalled eventually leaving the army to train as a coach. Interesting to note is that Barnwell was versatile enough to be a coach in just about any sports including: basketball, cricket, football as well as chess and badminton which he became exposed to when he joined Queen’s College some 12 years ago. According to Barnwell, he has been gaining unwavering support from the school’s principal, Ms. Jackie Benn, the school’s chairman of the board, the school’s alumni, Ms. Violet Holder of the Allied Arts Department and other staffers too. Currently Barnwell has on his agenda to plan a sporting programme for the late Police Commissioner, Laurie Lewis, a former student of the school who understood the importance of sports.
But even before heading over to his current school of employment, Barnwell recalled that his success as a sports educator was first unleashed at the St George’s Secondary School. He retained the position of Physical Education teacher at that institution for the better part of a decade during which he was able to develop a top football team. He also did a stint at the Bishop’s High.
Barnwell, who is credited with starting ‘small goal’ football here in Guyana, was able to train outstanding footballers the likes of Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson, Devon Millington, Nadoo McAllister and a number of other popular players who his aged mind was taxed to recall during his interview. As he recollected being able to help shape the career of top table tennis player, Sharmar Brighton, Barnwell noted that because of his intrinsic and well recognized sports organizing abilities he was retained 25 years ago as the Sports Organising Coordinator for the African Cultural and Development Association, a task he continues to date with pride.
Although he can easily be classified as a top sporting organizer nationally, Barnwell has had little recognition but insists that this has not, and will never, deter him from embracing his true passion for sports. “I think I have been shafted a few times but that doesn’t discourage me in anyway because I love what I do; I love who I am when I do any sport activities,” he divulged. “I have been all over the country to do sports activities…right now I am still doing that,” said Barnwell who does a lot of his organizing work through the South Turkeyen Sports Committee which he initiated. He was also behind the formation of the Black Stallion Football Club of Vryheid Lust, East Coast Demerara which was captained by his brother, Joseph Barnwell. “That team was able to perform all over Guyana outstandingly…Joey Parker was also a captain of the team and Wesley Tyndall, who has a son who runs right now for Guyana, were all a part of that team” said Barnwell.
Even as he reminisced on the time and effort he has devoted to sports over the years, Barnwell emphasized his belief that “Sports can help you in all contexts; it helps you to meet and interact with people. Without sports, I don’t think you can make it because sports is part of the curriculum. Sports is a sector that you must have and I think people, including the government, are really taking sports serious.” But Barnwell hasn’t been waiting on government to take the lead to impress the importance of sports to the youths of the nation. In fact just recently he volunteered his time to assist and educate youth footballers of Bellfield, East Coast Demerara.
In his quest to organize various sports competitions to ensure that youths are meaningfully engaged, Barnwell made it clear that he has been gaining immense support to do so from persons the likes of Allister Monroe, also a sports organizer, Henry Chase of Chase Academy and Colin and Clyde Watson. Many businesses have also thrown immense sponsorship support behind Barnwell over the years and he readily singled out Paul’s Import of Garnett Street, Georgetown among those that have never disappointed. According to Barnwell, he has become so acquainted with the various sports that he is able to plan competitions to suit the weather. “Right now with all the rain, I’m planning indoors sports activities like domino and chess,” said Barnwell who has helped to promote various sports activities that involve agencies such as the Guyana Revenue Authority and even the Police Force. Even more recently he has been mobilizing sporting activities for a number of government ministries too.
“My life is sports and I will continue to be involved as long as I live. I have always been sports conscious and I think if somebody isn’t sports conscious something has to be wrong with them…,” said a smiling Barnwell who is father to John Junior, Malika and Natasha who are all already proud of his legacy. “My appeal to parents is don’t prevent your children from being involved in sports, it will help them to grow as human beings, it would teach them to communicate and socialize with others and these are important traits to help them along their life. So you should encourage them to take part in sports,” said Barnwell who is today being recognized as our ‘Special Person’ of the week.
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