Alma Victor ʽChamp’ Hunt (1910-1999)
In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history
Alma Victor “Champ” Hunt is considered the finest cricketer ever produced by Bermuda. A prodigious all-rounder, he dominated the local game as a player and administrator for more than 50 years.
He started his career with Somerset Cricket Club and was one of five brothers to represent the club in Bermuda’s annual Cup Match. He went on to captain both Somerset and Bermuda, and became the first Bermudian cricketer to establish himself as a professional overseas, representing Scotland at international level. He is the only Bermudian ever to have been invited to play a trial match for the West Indies Test team.
He later became a respected sports journalist and influential administrator in the game, as secretary and president of the Bermuda Cricket Board of Control and a member of the International Cricket Council. The ICC Trophy, the World Cup qualifying tournament for non-Test nations, was his brainchild.
Born in Somerset on October 1, 1910, Hunt was one of seven sons and two daughters produced by Solomon and Maria Hunt. His early upbringing in what was then still a rural community was relatively simple. When not at school, Hunt and his siblings were expected to help with the farming and fishing to feed the family and attended Sunday school every week. Hunt credited the discipline and religious and moral principles instilled by his parents with shaping his success as a cricketer.
Alma Hunt played cricket from an early age and soon established himself as an all-rounder of rare promise — a left-handed middle-order batsman, right-arm medium-fast bowler and a quick-witted slip fielder. Various accounts claim he scored his first hundred in a match when he was 10 or 12 against a team of grown men.
In 1927, aged just 16, he was selected for Somerset in the annual Cup Match against St George’s, following in the footsteps of his elder brothers, William, Amon — known as “Red” and a future captain — and Eric. Younger brother Delbert, whose sharp wicketkeeping earned him the nickname “Shark-eye”, would later play, too.
Hunt marked his first game, played in St. George’s, with a fighting 36 runs in the second innings to help Somerset to victory. Two weeks later, he was selected by Somerset captain Warren Simmons for a Pick of Bermuda team to tour New York.
Any concerns about his young age were dispelled in his first innings of 76 runs in just 20 minutes, including six sixes and ten fours. He also bowled ten overs, taking four wickets without conceding a single run.
By the time he was 20, Hunt was a local legend and was universally known as “Champ” — a nickname said to have originated when, as a young boy, he had been out for a duck and taunted by other players because he was supposed to be “a champ”.
He had scored more runs than any other player in Cup Match history to that point, become the first (in 1931) to score half-centuries in both innings and the first Cup Match bowler to achieve the hat-trick of taking three wickets with three successive balls (1932). That year he also scored what was then the highest score in Cup Match (82) and his total of 147 runs over the two innings became an aggregate record.
The prize of the first Cup Match century eluded him — Edward “Bosun” Swainson, of St George’s, hit 122 in 1937 — but in 1941 “Champ” became the first Somerset player to do so, scoring 104 of Somerset’s total of 127 for seven. By the time he retired from Cup Match in 1948, Hunt had amassed 762 runs, scored in just 20 innings, taken 45 wickets at an average of just 9.58 runs apiece and claimed 15 catches. He captained Somerset just once, in 1948, leading them to victory by an innings and 11 runs.
His record would have been even more impressive but for the eight Cup Matches he missed during a highly successful professional career in Scotland. The latter was the happy result of what was the biggest disappointment of Hunt’s career in 1933, when he was controversially not selected for the West Indies Test team.
E.F. Gordon, PhD, the renowned labour leader, was a cricket lover and a great admirer of young Champ. Following Champ’s exploits in the 1932 Cup Match, he helped arrange, through contacts in his native Trinidad, an invitation for Hunt to try out for West Indies in 1933 for their forthcoming tour to England.
Hunt was one of the stars of the trials. He captured five wickets for ten runs and scored 51 runs in his first game; a further 50, three wickets and two superb catches in his second; and hit 36 and took two wickets in the final trial for G.C. Grant’s XI at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad.
However the West Indies Cricket Board ruled that because Bermuda had no cricket governing body at the time and was therefore not affiliated with the WICB, Hunt was not eligible for final selection. The decision caused outrage in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and even made headlines in England, but the WICB stood firm. Debate continues to this day whether the affiliation issue was a genuine reason or an excuse not to select him as a non-West Indian.
E.F. Sorley, MD, a Scot working as Senior Medical Officer at the British Royal Naval Dockyard Hospital where Champ was employed as a messenger and often played in friendly games against Navy teams, was so incensed by the decision that he persuaded his home club, Aberdeenshire CC, to employ Hunt as a professional.
In April 1934, Hunt arrived in Scotland as the club’s first overseas and first Black player and his charismatic personality and exploits on the field soon won over any bigots.
In his history of Scottish cricket, N.L. Stevenson compared Hunt to his contemporary, the legendary West Indian all-rounder Learie Constantine: “Hunt in his day was a genuine personality … He played his cricket with captivating and refreshing zest. So far as the Aberdeen public were concerned, they turned up in their thousands each week to watch his performance … Hunt’s enthusiasm was unquenchable, and he fielded in the slips ready to pounce like a bird of prey.”
His exploits for Aberdeen included capturing 100 wickets in his first two seasons, and taking seven for 11 in 1939 as West Lothian were bowled out for 48 and then scoring all the runs in a ten-wicket win. The same year he also scored an unbeaten 157 against Fifeshire. In 1935, his 1,229 runs eclipsed a club record that had stood since 1897, but he bettered it the next year with 1,388.
In eight seasons at Mannofield, he scored 8,190 runs, including 22 centuries, and took 685 wickets. He led Aberdeen to their first county championship in 24 years in 1946 and repeated the feat the next season, his last in Scotland. The country made a lasting impression on Hunt, who later named his house in Bermuda “Mannofield” after Aberdeenshire’s ground.
In 1938, he represented Scotland in what would be the only two first-class matches of his career. In a draw against the Australians at Dundee, he scored 22 of Scotland’s first-innings 88 and took two wickets, including the captain S.J. McCabe. Against Yorkshire in a three-day game at Harrogate, he top-scored in Scotland’s dismal second innings of 56 as they were beaten by eight wickets.
Among the other Scottish highlights was a match Hunt organised at Aberdeen against a League of Coloured People XI that included West Indian Test players Learie Constantine and Emmanuel Martindale.
Hunt had become actively involved in the league, an organisation formed to represent the interests of Blacks in Britain, and fought throughout his career to break down racial barriers in sport, later taking an active role in Bermuda’s Race Relations Council.
As secretary of the Black Somers Isles Cricket League, he helped bring about the sport’s integration under the Bermuda Cricket Board of Control and became the board’s president from 1966 to 1984.
In 1948, he spearheaded a fundraising drive to send Bermuda’s first Black athletes to the Olympics after being told that by the White-run Bermuda Olympic Association that they would have to pay their own way. Despite his efforts, Hunt, who had helped coach the track runners, was not selected as a team coach. He later received official recognition from the Bermuda Track and Field Association for his contributions to the sport.
After the war, Hunt became a teacher and journalist. Although he never completed secondary education, Hunt was a voracious reader and a confident public speaker. In 1943-44, he majored in journalism and recreation at Columbia University, New York, and returned to Bermuda as a physical education teacher. In 1965, he was appointed head of the Bermuda Government’s first Employment Office — a position he held until his retirement in 1975.
He began writing a regular column for the Black-owned Bermuda Recorder, eventually becoming its sports editor, and also wrote a typically opinionated column in the Mid-Ocean News, called “Slugging It Out”.
After retiring as a player in the mid-1950s, Hunt became increasingly involved in the sport’s administration. As well as being president of the BCBC, he was also the board’s representative on cricket’s world governing body, the International Cricket Council, from 1967 to 1982. He became the first Bermudian to be made an honorary life member of the famous MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) at Lord’s in London. He also helped found the Bermuda Cricket Umpires Association — he was its first president — and also served as president of Bermuda’s Sports Development Council.
Hunt lobbied successfully for Bermuda to become an associate member as a non-Test-playing country in 1966, which something he felt Bermuda cricket needed to improve. The next year he proposed a tournament for associate member nations, which eventually took place in 1979 as a qualifier for the new Cricket World Cup and paved the way for Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka to become Test nations. Bermuda reached the final in 1982 and eventually qualified for its first World Cup in 2007.
Hunt’s important contribution to international cricket was recognised when the Man of the Series Trophy for the 1986 tournament was named in his honour.
In 1979, he was part of an ICC delegation that visited apartheid South Africa to report on integration in the sport. Hunt felt South Africa was making good progress as far as cricket was concerned but after the Gleneagles Agreement in 1982, the Commonwealth imposed a sporting boycott of South Africa. As a result, Hunt found himself at the centre of a media storm in 1989 after visiting South Africa as a guest for events marking the 100th anniversary of South Africa’s first Test Match. The BCBC, claiming that Hunt had embarrassed the board and its support of the Gleneagles Agreement, stripped him of his position as honorary life president.
Hunt married Elmira Tucker, his wife of more than 50 years, in 1947. Elmira Hunt was also a teacher, a graduate of Howard University and from a socially prominent family. Booker T. Washington, the African-American civil rights leader, was a classmate of her father, Ernest Scott Tucker, at Hampton University and best man at his wedding.
Alma and Elmira had two children, son Alma, an honours graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, and daughter Beverley, a branch manager for the Bank of Bermuda, who later settled in England.
Champ Hunt died on March 5, 1999, aged 88, and was buried at St James Church in Somerset. At his request, a Scottish piper played a lament at his funeral.
Hunt was honoured with an obituary in the Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, the “bible” of cricket, which described him as “the best cricketer ever to emerge from Bermuda”. He was appointed as both an MBE and OBE for his services to cricket and was posthumously inducted into the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He was, according to the citation, “a man who personified what Bermuda cricket was and should aspire to be”.
• Courtesy of Chris Gibbons, Meredith Ebbin and bermudabiographies.bm