Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Cyprian Fernades: Ray Batchelor and the Goans Part II Athletics, Alcino Rodrigues

Ray Batchelor

AtAthletes who represented the Coast at the Kenya National championships with the legendary British middle and long distance runner Sir Chris Chataway: Rear from left: Albert Castanha (sprinter), Hugh Winder (Shot Put), Chris Chataway, Alfred Vianna (Discus and Shot), Joe Faria (sprinter), Francis Soares, Seraphino Antao (sprinter, hurdler, long jumper). Front row: Jaswinder Singh (Olympic hockey, middle distance), Alcino Rodrigues (440 yards, 880 yards), Austin D’Souza ….(??), Norbert De Souza.

In the early days with Seraphino, Ray had his work cut out. Seraphino “could sometimes be a handful” (very strong willed about what he thought was best) but once he began to see the results he was getting out of working with Ray, they took the baby steps on the long hard road to history with somewhat complete dedication.  Here is one example of the tremendous impact (unforgettable impact) Ray had on his charges:
Multi-sports winner: sprinter, hockey star, netball, badminton: Laura Ramos “Under Coach Ray Batchelor's guidance, I honed in my sprinting skills, improved starts by watching Albert Castanha, Seraphino Antao and the other male sprinters.  Later he taught me how to use blocks to get shooting starts.  As a coach, he set examples of respect for other competitors, not resting on your laurels, using your inborn energy and talents to be a winner.  I never heard him put down any athlete, and boosted anyone who showed any disappointment in being second-best.  I have used all this advice my entire life in all I do.  I looked up to him as My Hero and a Godsend.  I never have forgotten him as I hold him in the highest esteem as a coach.”
Laura was part of the Coast athletics clubs called the Achilles Club started by Ray (or so I was told)  its membership comprised of the best Goan athletes around the Coast and on the national scene: Albert Castanha, Joe Faria, Seraphino Antao, Pascoal Antao, Alcino Rodrigues, Jack Fernandes, Laura Ramos, Phila Fernandes, Juanita Noronha, Meldrita Viegas, Alfred Vienna, Bruno D’Souza.  And several others whose names I do not have. Most of those named above are all winners at one time or another in their individual events. Most of them were sprinters. Alcino Rodrigues was a hugely promising quarter and half miler.

Alcino Rodrigues, Albert Castanha, Seraphino Antao

The great American 400 metres gold medalist writing an autograph for a very young Alcino Rodrigues.

ALCINO RODRIGUES: "Ray Batchelor was singularly instrumental in the sporting careers of many in Kenya and especially in Mombasa. Fortunately, I was one of the few blessed to be the product of his great contribution to Kenya Sports.  In 1956, given the choice between Soccer & Track, Ray felt I would be better off in Track. Hence my specialty in the 400 which, through hard work, Ray's guidance and dedication to the sport, I earned the Coast and Kenya colours in the event. In 1968, I carried these skills into the Canadian Masters Track & Field for several decades, with great success, retiring from the sports at 80 a few years ago.

Ray arrived in Mombasa as a Soccer & Athletic Coach in the 1950s. Although he initially worked on soccer players' physical fitness, it was in Athletics that he made the most impact in Mombasa and Kenya despite many challenges from other coaches in the country including claims for the success of many coast athletes and soccer players. In Mombasa, Ray was fortunate to embrace several unpolished diamonds as his trainees, which he singularly and painstakingly polished and shined making some, in Track & Field, the envy of Africa and the world.

To me, Ray was more than a Track coach. He was a true role model, a confidante and a hero. Someone to look up to. Ray was also a disciplinarian. He minced no words and would always say the way it was, whether you liked it or not. In my life, of four scores, I have come across very few of his like. One of his greatest saying to me was: "Defeat is not declared when you fall down. Defeat is declared when you refuse to get up". What a confidence builder. I have carried this advice all my life, both in my personal, corporate and professional life, and have passed it on to our only child Dominic. I am now drilling it into our four grandchildren who are already exhibiting signs of sporting prowess albeit in soccer and swimming.

At a time when the non-whites, especially the Africans, were viewed differently in Kenya, Ray genuinely and sincerely showed that he was one of us and was often pilloried by his Mombasa Club mates for leaning too much towards the non-whites.  Amidst all this, Ray also exuded his true humane side by always making time to listen to our individual concerns and was ever ready to help, including financially. Ray was not your normal "Kaburu" (Swahili slang for white man) we knew in Kenya but a very special individual and so were his wife and his two children.

His passing has left a great void in the lives of many who trained under him, sought his guidance, and are still around to acknowledge his immense - and even life changing - contribution. May Ray's soul rest in peace."

To me Ray was very special, and I am sure he was also to many of his trainees. Although I never had the opportunity to tell him personally, I would like his children to know that their "father" has left an indelible mark on the lives of many.

OTHERS who were trained by Ray in Mombasa: Winnie Singh: (nee De Souza)  
Perhaps least known to the Goan and Kenya sporting circles, Winnie was the first Kenya Women’s' 100 yards Champion, making her the fastest then and to date, Goan woman in Africa, in 1956. In the same race you saw the twins Trifa & Nifa De Souza, of whom Cyprian has written voluminously, Meldrita Laurente and two other African women. I have a photo from Kenya Information Service showing the participants breasting the tape. I will provide it to you some day. (By the way, in this race Winnie ran in her Mombasa Goan School uniform bare feet and won)

Swaleh Omar: (Sprints), Salim Ali:  (400m), Alfred Viana: (Shot & Discus), Hugh Winder: (Shot & Discus), Peter Francis: (800m & 1500m), Luis Kibaso: (400). There were also other Goan athletes, that Ray coached, who represented the Coast at the Kenya National Championships: Joe Faria, Bruno de Souza, and Lucas Remedios. 

Meldrita (Laurente) Viegas: I was still in high school when the Achilles Club was born. In school I participated in inter-school meets and later the Coast Championships. It was at the Coast Championships that Ray Batchelor recruited me to train at the Mombasa Municipal Stadium.

Ray was a hardworking and dedicated coach. Each athlete was guided according to the raw talent he saw in them. In preparation for each meet, the Monday to Friday training was intense. Two to three hours a day.

After light jogs, warm ups exercise etc, Ray would ask me to run up the stadium seats (steps) with knees as high as I could get them. This, he told me, would help improve the length of my strides. There was always a count for each activity, for example:  3 light jogs round the stadium track or 5 starts accompanied by a 50 yard dash. Relay baton exchanges were also included.

I remember vividly how at one Coast Championship, Ray admonished me for taking part in events I did not train for. My events were the 100 yards 200 yards long jump and 400x100 yards relay. A friend and I decided to take part in the shot put and discus. There were very few competitors and we were sure of getting medals.

Under Ray Bachelor's leadership, I went to the Kenya Championships in Kisumu and Nakuru.
I was one of the ladies chosen to train at Jeans School Kabete. This was to provide us with the opportunity to compete at the international stage.
I learnt from Ray Bachelor what it meant to concentrate, be dedicated and determined. He nurtured these qualities in each of us. I am grateful for that to this day.

The day the Antao-Batchelor partnership ended, my sports editor at the time (in fact the man who gave me my first job as a sports reporter, Tom Clarke, wrote: "Take a good look at this picture … It is symbolic of the greatest partnership the Kenya sports world has ever known … Seraphino Antao and Ray Batchelor, the man who transformed the lean Goan from a good footballer into one of the world’s top sprinters.

"The partnership has ended."

Seffie has returned to his Mombasa home. Ray, the long-time Coast Sport Officer has been transferred to Nakuru, including the Rift Valley.

Antao, looking untensed and healthy following a spell of doing next to nothing since his return from Europe, told me the other day: “Ray made me … It’s going to be difficult trying to find my own faults.”

Ray working with Kimaru Songok

As soon as Kenyans struck gold on the international scene, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and World Championships and burned up tracks around the world with some of the greatest front-running seen, there was a bit of scramble for glory by people who should not have been talking themselves with the media, both local and international. The international media more often than not fell victim to these bouts of fake news. Ray Batchelor and Archie Evans were at the start of the gold rush. Ray had already started work with hurdler Kimaru Songok (Perth Commonwealth Games Silver medallist), Peter Francis 800medallist and several others. He would often join Archie Evans at the Kabete Training School to work with legends Nyandika Mayoro, Arere Anentia, Peter Francis, Songok, Kiptalem Keter, Wilson Kiprugut Chuma, Naftali Temu, Joseph Leresae, Lezaro Chepkwony, Paul Odhiambo and Constable John.

It took a sports fan called Charran Singh to take the great British athletics writer to task, pointing out that: “Stationed all over Kenya you devoted part-time coaches and administrators who worked hard to advance the development of Kenya’s athletic potential and did not seek praise or the limelight. Among these people were Danny Shaw, Eddie Evans (Archie’s brother) Laurie Campbell, Mike Wade and Charles Mukora (who went on to greatness). These quietly disappeared into the Kenyan sunset, shooed away by the new world independent Kenya.

John Velzian was not among these pioneers whose mantle had already incubating in the nursery stage by missionary schools throughout the Rift Valley and none more so than St Patrick’s at Iten. The Kalenjin tribe of the Rift Valley has dominated Kenya and the world since the very first steps were taken in the company of Archie Evans and Ray Batchelor.

Velzian would write his own pages of history, Charran Singh wrote, but it must be remembered that Velzian inherited the already established wealth of athletes, infrastructure and the nursery of budding new athletes who would go on to write their own headlines.

In the final analysis, Ray Batchelor made an enormous contribution to the introduction and development of many sports. He was not only a coach, mentor, trainer … he was also a sports administrator and a general dogsbody who did the minutiae when nobody else would. He lived for his sports men and women because he loved every minute of it. Kenya was his paradise.

IN MALAWI, as national coach of the soccer team, Ray achieved the rare double of beating Zambia in two matches it has never happened before and country went wild. People in the street would come up and thank him personally. Blantyre was venue where I would see him for the last time. I was on my way to the construction site of the then largest dam in Africa, the Cabora Basa. I came to get a visa from the Portuguese mission in Blantyre. I wanted to find exactly who was financing, building and eventually who the join partners were. The Portuguese ambassador said: No. I had time on my hands and I needed to catch up with Ray. I went for a few beers at his delightful home. After being somewhat nudged out of Kenya after unreservedly sacrificing a large part of his life, the former soldier had to leave like most expatriates. When we spoke there were no regrets, we remembered on the good times. Like when Seffie rang me desperately asking for help in getting Ray back to the coast to help with coaching. It took a couple minutes with Sports Minister Ngala Mwendwa and Ray was on the next plane to Mombasa. He was having a ball coaching the national side, working setting up the training and coaching infrastructure for budding athletes, budding schoolboy soccer players, body building and fitness yards, talking to schools and colleges, getting the young girls breaking a few sports ceilings. He had found a wary paradise because after 5 years of unstinting work, Ray would be on the move again nudged by the “old man” fiery President Kamuzu Banda.

No problem. He moved to Natal, South Africa where he opened sports shop and quickly began coaching soccer for youngsters and it was not long before he was celebrating success with his young charges. He took on all sorts of challenges, all to do with sports, sports administration or teach sport techniques. He never lost the ability to smile that everlasting cheeky smile, he knew something you didn’t.

A former British soldier, Ray was a much regimented man, so was his passion. He was a fighter to the last drop in the things he believed in for his charges and what he demanded of his charges. This was often a matter of the young men matching his own passion for whatever he was involved with them. Sometimes, he found some of them lacking. He tried his best to cajole it out of them. Some he failed and they gave up in surrender or other eventualities took place. When I say that he lived for sport, it is not an exaggeration of any kind. Without sport, Ray was lost. Sometimes he disappointed himself. But he never gave up for too long; there was always another fight in him.

That is what I remember best about Ray. His battling spirit for the good of the young folks he coached.
Ray passed away on Sunday, February 5, 2006 in South Africa. RIP my friend.

Coast Province Athletics team, Kenya Championships, Nairobi 1956: 
From left: Albert Castanha, Joe Faria, Lucas Remedios, Winnie Singh (nee D’Souza), Meldrita Viegas, Oscar D’Mello, Brucino D’Souza, Salim Ali, Seraphino Antao. On the ground: Harun Chimoto and Alcino Rodrigues.
Honours gained: First place (2), Second place (3), Third place (4), Fourth place (1). Relays 4X100 second, 4X440 (4th)  Ray: A remarkable performance when one considers we were competing against provincial teams with between 80 and 90 athletes.

·         Special thanks to Claire (Batchelor) Leather for all the help with research and photos.

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