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Devonshire Colts celebrate turning 65

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Next generation: coach Joe “Fleckie” Wilkin with the Devonshire Colts under-nine team (Photograph supplied)

Devonshire Colts started in 1958 with a bunch of footballers who were all still in high school.

Although they were disciplined in technique, they lost practice time because of exams and, as matches pitted them against older, more experienced teams, no one thought they would last long.

The naysayers were wrong. Devonshire Colts turn 65 this month and are marking the anniversary with a black-tie dinner and a documentary, Sportsmanship, Character, and Unity: The 65 Year Journey of Devonshire Colts.

Early days: Devonshire Colts in the early 1960s. Shown in the back row, from left, are Phillip Galloway, Donald “Dick” Dane (coach), Larry Smith, Clarence Saunders, Calvin “Bums” Simmons, Oliver Caisey, Marcus Douglas, Gordon Cholmondeley, Walter Joe Stevens (manager), Kenneth Richardson (manager). Front row, from left, are John “Kirk” Bartram, Cecil “Junks” Durham, Carlton “Pepe” Dill, Willis Cann, Albert Dowling and Eugene Durham (File photograph)

When Joe “Fleckie” Wilkin started playing in 1971 the attitude was “train hard or go home”.

“It was great playing with them. Training was organised and there was lots of discipline.”

The 70-year-old was inspired by coaches Carlton “Pepe” Dill and Donald “Dick” Dane.

“I have lots of good memories of Peppy training me in his kitchen. And Mr Dane would tell us if you want to be the best, do more than the rest,” said Mr Wilkin, a coach of more than 30 years.

Train hard or go home: Devonshire Colts president Zuri Darrell, left, with his nephew Oliver Darrell, 7, and coach Joe “Fleckie” Wilkin (Photograph supplied)

One of his former students is Zuri Darrell, the president of Devonshire Colts, who joined the team at age 5.

“I still remember those days,” the 37-year-old said. “We used to chase balls around and try to score goals. I was always playing football and making a lot of friends. I fell in love with football. It became my life.”

Mr Wilkin became a mentor.

“He always used to say if you are first to the ball, you are in control,” Mr Darrell said. “If you are first, you can make the decisions on what you do next.”

That advice has come in handy in his role as vice-president of investor services at Butterfield Bank.

“It is important, especially when dealing with clients,” Mr Darrell said. “If you are not first, you lose out.”

Devonshire Colts were founded by Edward deJean, the principal of Howard Academy, and Braxton Burgess, a physical education teacher.

The school was known for turning underperforming students into star pupils. Mr deJean’s philosophy was to improve his students' learning potential through sports and competition. The football team took on the motto: sportsmanship, character and unity.

Train hard or go home: the Devonshire Colts team in 1959 (Photograph supplied)

Most of the early players on the team were Howard Academy students, but there were a few from The Berkeley Institute.

The first team roster consisted of Kenneth Richardson, Lionel “Eggs” Darrell, Charles Phipps, Calvin “Bumps” Simmons, Cecil “Junks” Durham, Edward “Woody” Fox, Raymond Morgan, Delwin Trott, Alex Romeo, Onslow Grant and Arnold Todd.

After achieving results at the school level, Devonshire Colts moved on to practice matches with established men’s teams such as Ramblers and Wellington Rovers.

On October 16, 1958, The Royal Gazette reported Devonshire Colts would play Southampton Rangers in a friendly game at the Somerset Cricket Club.

Thriller at The Rec: a clipping from the December 18, 1958 issue of The Royal Gazette (Photograph supplied)

They wowed football fans.

“Colts Clip Police 4-0”, “Colts Tame Ramblers in Fast-Moving Game” and “Sell-Out Crowd Expected at Ramblers-Colts Game”, were some of the headlines that year.

Newspapers called their success “astonishing”.

In January 1959, 3,000 spectators jammed into BAA field to watch Devonshire Colts beat champions Wellington Rovers.

Things came to a halt in 1960, however, when many of the team’s members left the island for university. On graduating, they formed Mutual Associates.

“They paid dues into the organisation with the objective of purchasing shares in Black businesses,” Mr Darrell explained. “They decided to use some of the money to restart the Devonshire Colts and enter the Second Division of the Bermuda Football Union.”

Devonshire Colts resumed play in 1965.

Today, there are 125 children in the team’s youth programme which is open to ages 3 to 17.

“Right now our senior team is in First Division,” Mr Darrell said. “We are looking for promotion to the Premier Division.”

He thought the Devonshire Colts’ chances of that were good over the next year.

Mr Darrell said: “We have a good young team, and we are expecting them to do really well.” ​

Devonshire Colts used to practise at Frog Lane, Devonshire, but had to move when the National Sports Centre was built. Now they split their time between Whitney Institute in Smith’s and the Police Recreation Club field in Prospect.

“The club has always been a family environment,” Mr Darrell said. “We don’t make revenue from a bar, but from gate receipts.”

The idea behind the documentary was to promote awareness of Devonshire Colts’ impact on the community.

“Sixty-five years is a long time, and we really wanted to do something that was memorable,” Mr Darrell said. “A lot of the older members are starting to pass away. We want the founders and their families to be recognised and remembered. We also want more people to join the club, become involved and give back.”

Made by Zion International, the documentary took six months to make and features present and former players and coaches. The project was sponsored by the Bermuda Arts Council.

“The hardest thing was just tracking down people to be in the film,” Mr Darrell said.

Mr Wilkin added: “It was great being featured in the documentary. I felt rewarded after so many years of playing and coaching. I didn’t think anyone cared about the older Bermuda football players.”

• Sportsmanship, Character and Unity: The 65 Year Journey of Devonshire Colts will debut at Ruth Seaton James Auditorium at CedarBridge Academy on September 23 at 7pm. Tickets are available at www.gpass.bm or at the door. Devonshire Colts’ coaches Joe Wilkin, Ray Jones and John Robinson will be honoured at a black-tie dinner at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on September 30. Tickets are available at www.gpass.bm

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Published September 20, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 21, 2023 at 8:11 am)

Devonshire Colts celebrate turning 65

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