Play field renamed for Ronald J. Forbes

North Side honors three-time Olympian

The field’s new sign is admired by Ronald J. Forbes, wife Elma, and parents Ronnie and Karen Forbes. - Photo: Carol Winker

The renaming of their district playing field may not have happened where organizers had planned, but how it happened must have exceeded their highest expectations as well-wishers from across the island saluted three-time Olympic hurdler and elite athlete Ronald Forbes on Saturday night.

The sporting facility at the northern end of Frank Sound Road was to have been the venue, with a new sign to be unveiled that would proclaim it henceforth as the Ronald J. Forbes Playing Field. Banners and tents were set up well in advance of the 5 p.m. starting time, but heavy rains from 4 p.m. prompted the decision to move to the shelter of Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Mr. Forbes would remark later in the program, and it took a portion of that village to transport chairs, decorations, containers of food and cartons of beverages to the building some two miles east. There, tables were set up, chairs wiped down and balloons relocated by a small army of visiting civil servants, performers’ parents and friends.

The executive committee of the North Side District Council had planned the unveiling of the new sign before sunset. When master of ceremonies Pastor Conway King thanked the assembly for helping with the smooth transition, it was just 23 minutes after that scheduled time.

Christen Suckoo, chief officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands, was to have given the formal welcome, but he had a sore throat so he stayed in the audience as assistant chief officer Joel Francis gave his speech. Mr. Francis said North Side and the whole Cayman Islands could be proud of the manner in which Mr. Forbes represented Cayman all mover the world. He joked that Mr. Forbes had received “many awards and prizes in his career, but we are pretty sure this is his first play field.”

Minister for Sport Juliana O’Connor-Connolly could not be present, but MLA David Wight, councilor for sport, delivered her speech on her behalf. The speech saluted Mr. Forbes for his “no excuses” attitude and called his level of commitment exemplary.

He had represented Cayman in over 25 countries and had faced many hurdles on and off the track. “I pray when children read the name of this field they will be inspired to persevere in the face of adversity,” according to the speech.

“I’m impressed by the amount of talent our little islands possess,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly’s speech, adding that youngsters needed emotional support as much as financial.

Boy choristers of Edna M. Moyle Primary School sing about “Uncle Lou…who fell in a well” while girls on the other side of the stage respond. – Photo: Carol Winker

Mr. Wight added a comment of his own. A respected cricketer himself, he told Mr. Forbes, “Athletics’ gain was cricket’s loss.”

Pat Ebanks presented what she said was a biography, but instead turned into a litany of Mr. Forbes’s achievements in collegiate, commonwealth and other international meets, culminating in qualification for the Olympics three times.

On behalf of the community, she thanked him for his determination and dedication. She pointed to the people present who were of many different ages and from many occupations, but they all shared in admiration for Mr. Forbes, “who never quits until the job is done.” He had helped many others reach their goals because he does not know the word defeat, she said.

“Thanks for pushing on when you felt like giving up, and being a man of actions, not just words,” she told him.

Mr. Forbes’s remarks were mainly expressions of heartfelt gratitude. He grew up playing football on the field now being named for him, he recalled; he accepted the honor, recognizing that with it came great responsibility. He paid homage to the men of an earlier generation who used pick axes, shovels and machetes to make the first clearance so they could play football.

He referred to the thatch hat lapel pin he was wearing and said he wore it because it reminded him of the times in which he grew up. His grandmother had stitched thatch products as a way of making a living, a way to get a meal at the end of the day. “It reminds me of home wherever I go,” he said. He recognized the work of all women, calling them the “ultimate sacrifice-makers.”

Mr. Forbes thanked adults who had provided opportunities for North Side boys to play football and basketball and have cycling races; he had not pursued these sports, but they had led him to sports discipline. He observed that the older generations may have had potential Olympians among them, but they did not have the opportunities. Today’s generation has opportunities, he pointed out, but also, “We have the responsibility to make sure the momentum continues for future generations.”

He urged parents to never forget that education starts in the home and he warned children that “We are often most educated by the people we spend the most time around.” He asked them to continue to pray “and know that God is with you all the way.”

Wherever their chosen path takes them, he advised, “Never forget where home is. Never forget what home is.”

Mr. Forbes’s agent, Dimitri Albert, who brought greetings from the athlete’s coach and hailed Mr. Forbes’s positive attitude, professionalism and willingness to pass on the knowledge he had gained to younger athletes.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller spoke of the students from Clifton Hunter High School and Edna Moyle Primary School who had provided musical entertainment. “You are responsible for the young people you saw on stage,” he reminded Mr. Forbes. He said every time the honored athlete drove past the field with his name on it, “I want you to rededicate yourself to them. You can be an example they can all look up to.”

Mr. Miller said one of today’s problems was that young people do not have many heroes. But they could look to the Ronald J. Forbes Playing Field for inspiration. “If Ronald can do it from his humble, honest beginnings, then there is no reason why you all can’t do it,” he asserted.

The official renaming and unveiling of the new sign was done by Mr. Suckoo and Mr. Wight, after which district council chairman Debra Broderick gave the vote of thanks.

A full-course buffet dinner was laid out at the back of the hall and, while the majority of people lined up to enjoy it, many others headed to the front of the hall asking to have their picture taken with Mr. Forbes and the sign as a souvenir of the happy occasion. He graciously agreed because, as he had said earlier, it had taken family, friends and neighbors to make him the man he is. They were part of his success.