In a way Michael ‘Bedi’ Walker should not come off as a stranger to local kids.
Walker has been to Cayman numerous times over the last decade in search of Cayman’s best young football talent.
In fact the Jamaican national was in Cayman last week scouring the collection of children before him on Academy Field on Outpost Road.
His intention was to refer players onto football academies in the US.
The youngsters he saw were part of the Academy Sports Club after-school programme.
The programme, which originates in 2001, is all about developing young footballers under the watchful eyes of local football figures like Lee Ramoon and Coach Winston Chung.
It has garnered much public support over the years with contributions from companies such as Burger King and CUC along with help from individuals like Pastor Al Ebanks, Alban Rose and Tiger Wilson.
During the few days he was here Walker could be seen instructing basic drills with the kids, all aged 17 and younger, and getting the youngsters to be quick with their decision-making.
As Walker stood back to watch and critique the passing and dribbling he saw many evaluations were going on in his head.
The tall, middle-aged man is not just merely another foreign football coach. He is also an educational consultant and former Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Cheshire Academy, Cheshire, Connecticut.
It is one of the top boarding schools in the US and caters to children in grades six to 12.
Walker has worked with many youngsters in the Caribbean on his mission to expose them to the surprisingly high standard of football in the US while giving them a shot at a US education.
Among them was Walker’s first Caymanian recruit Ariel Tatum. Tatum signed with Walker in 2001 at the Holderness School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Walker was the Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid then.
Tatum came into the fold after Walker noticed the young man’s talents on a trip to Cayman.
That meeting was facilitated by Tatum’s mentor Academy Coach Winston Chung. Chung also doubled as an old acquaintance of Chung from their early days in Jamaica [Walker began coaching football in Jamaica in 1985].
Tatum was a product of the after-school programme and his solid form abroad, both in the classroom and on the field, would lead Walker to keep coming back to Cayman.
Cayman is now one of his recruiting grounds along with the likes of Jamaica and Bahamas.
As Coach Chung explains, Walker has been vital in getting young footballers to aim higher.
‘He has been the one getting kids abroad. We have to have a watermark for the kids to aspire to new heights. We try to encourage the kids to get a good education and we go to big tournaments abroad or people like Michael come here it gives our kids a chance to be seen.’
Looking on as the kids practiced their headers, Walker said he felt there was definite talent here.
In his minds the kids have the ability to match up with youngsters anywhere else in the world.
The only thing he felt was missing was discipline on and off the field.
As the sun began to set over Windsor Park and the day’s session drew to a close, Walker talked about the level of difference between local and international football.
He said the level of physical commitment is one thing but the mental component is another.
He felt his mission was to bridge that gap among youth in the Caribbean and those in Cayman. For him finding another Ariel Tatum here would be tough but worth the effort.
Coach Chung echoed those sentiments.
‘There is only one Ariel Tatum and it would be unfair to compare everyone to him. Each year we compare the kids on their merits. This group of kids we have now is a talented bunch. If we keep them in the programme they could develop into a good cadre of kids.’
To help finance the Academy programme a concert will be put on tomorrow night at the Lions Centre.
The event, put on by Eye of the Tiger Productions, is a special Valentine’s evening called ‘Lover’s Night’ with entertainment from Regeneration Band, Crystal Entertainment and other acts.
In the end it’s not clear whether Walker found another Ariel Tatum. But one thing is certain: Cayman can expect to see him back in the future looking for Cayman’s best talent.