Euler fears for future of local athletics

  • Lots of heart: long jumper Bruce DeGrilla has found himself at a career crossroads since finishing university

    Lots of heart: long jumper Bruce DeGrilla has found himself at a career crossroads since finishing university

“My biggest fear about Bermuda is already the reality; senior athletes are just giving up; the future of athletics on island is in serious danger.”

This is the damning verdict of highly respected teacher and athletics coach Bill Euler, who has warned that Bermuda must act now or risk the prospect of losing further top-level athletes, because of a lack of infrastructure and support on the island.

Throughout his career in the Bermuda public school system and as head coach of the Mid-Island Striders Track Club, Euler has helped enable a steady stream of student-athletes secure scholarship opportunities at colleges overseas, particularly in the United States, with the majority going on to not only gain degrees, but also make major strides athletically.

However, once their time at college comes to an end and they return to Bermuda, that is when, in Euler’s opinion, the major problems begin.

“I’ve been blessed to help around 30 young athletes go off to college, but the worst thing for all of them is once they return, there is nothing here,” said Euler, who is trying to help long jumper Bruce DeGrilla, who finds himself at a crossroads and came close to quitting after finishing at the University of Tennessee and returning to Bermuda.

“The junior ages in athletics on island have a healthy participation, but the big concern for me is the lack of any real options for athletes when they return from college. What is the point in coming back when there is nothing here for you?

“Someone like Bruce, I’ve been incredibly surprised about how disciplined he has been. I asked him to come to training with me to try and qualify for the Olympics [in Tokyo next summer] and from October of last year, he’s been brilliant.

“Because of a conflict in our schedules, he’ll practise alone, five to six days a week, doing exactly what I asked of him. I was blown away by how disciplined he was.

“I wish I could get some of my other athletes to train like him. He’s by himself, trains, goes to work, then will do weight sessions, but it’s incredibly hard to do by yourself, including mentally.

“I haven’t seen that sort of discipline in many local athletes, and so for him to come back and not have support in place is not right.”

However, DeGrilla’s issues are not an isolated case, with Euler having seen a host of athletes suffer the same fate once returning from college overseas.

“Athletes like Bruce will just lose heart and quit and he’s not the only one,” added Euler.

“Jasmine Bronson, who holds the national record in triple jump, she had a scholarship abroad, came back, never went away to compete. Kyle Webb, went away and graduated, did everything he was supposed to do, then came back and was on the verge of quitting.

“Allison Outerbridge, graduated in Tennessee, came back, was knocking on Jasmine Bronson’s record, and then had to give up because she had to earn a living. Taahira Butterfield is another one. She got her masters in Miami, was training with top coaches and then returned to nothing to encourage her to keep going.

“These athletes come back and there is nothing in place for them. They all had a realistic chance of reaching an Olympics if they had the competition and support on island.

“It’s so disheartening to see athletes manage to get out of here, progress abroad and then have nothing to come back for.

“There are a lot of athletes here under the age of 30 who could come back and compete at a high level, but the passion has gone because they are under pressure to earn a living; athletics and sport aren’t a priority.”

Euler also addressed the subject of athletes who have represented Bermuda at the highest levels, citing another issue to add weight to his argument of more needing to be done on island.

“Look at the likes of Flora Duffy, Tyler Butterfield and even Tyrone Smith; they’ve reached a high level, but none of them were developed here; they grew up and progressed away from the island,” he added.

“Caitlin Bobb is a perfect up- to-date example; she’s running scholarship-worthy times and will gain a place at a top university, but she’s in the States; she’s getting top coaching and good competition.

“Most, if not all, of our top recent athletes over the years didn’t develop here. Back in the day, we had top athletes developing here, but the structure was different; it’s changed and it’s affected home-grown athletes developing here.”

The problem appears clear, but what is the solution?

Euler believes he may have an ambitious one, and one that would not just benefit athletics, but a plethora of sports.

“There needs to be a proper structure on island, a proper programme, facilities, funding,” he said.

“An idea that I took to Bermuda College is to create a sports performance centre. It would be a huge project, but we have the facility for it.

“I believe it’s a realistic aim. We have the space that isn’t being utilised, that could be used for an all-weather facility under a dome structure, so that it can be used all-year round.

“It’s not just athletics that would benefit; as well, you could put volleyball, netball, futsal, so many sports under one roof in an all-weather facility.”

As well as the development for sport, Euler also highlighted the impact his ambitious project could have on Bermuda College and further afield to help benefit tourism for the island.

“The facility would be attached to the college and you could create specialised courses related to sport such as testing, fitness, physiotherapy, sports science, coaching, psychology,” he said.

“The college is struggling and so it would not only benefit people physically but also allow them to gain qualifications.

“It would require a major revamp, but it would be for the students and benefit the island as a whole through our students and through sports tourism.

“Jamaica has a sports centre, but we’re closer to the likes of the US and the UK and we could also invite teams over all year round for seasonal training.

“The hotel is right there, on a bus route and five minutes from Hamilton. Jamaica supported their athletes and enjoyed a golden era in athletics and now they are seeing facilities being created because of that. Why couldn’t Bermuda enjoy a similar process, albeit on a smaller scale.”

One major stumbling block that could hamper the development of a dedicated sports performance centre is the failure of Sandys 360, a taxpayers-funded sports centre, which opened in September 2009 before crippling expenses and a lack of revenue ultimately forced its doors to close just four years later in November 2013.

However, despite that, Euler is confident his proposed project would not suffer the same fate.

“I know there were issues with Sandys 360, but despite the right idea being there, I don’t think the vision was carried out properly,” he added.

“Sandys could, and should have been an excellent project and facility, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out like it should have done.

“This would be different because it could be affiliated directly to Bermuda College and would benefit the students and island directly. This would also be a community hub, but one that is more central, with the proper infrastructure around it.

“My clubs used to travel away every year, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The beauty of having a facility here is that those who can’t afford to go away to college could stay here and do it.

“I have this vision for Bermuda but, unfortunately, the people who matter don’t appear to be buying in to it, I just don’t understand.”

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Published Aug 28, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 27, 2019 at 10:38 pm)

Euler fears for future of local athletics

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