LeiLanni Nesbeth shares special bond with Raynor family
Eldon Raynor, a former cricketer and footballer, has been a positive role model for many younger sportsmen, but the friendship he and his wife Barbara share with top footballer, LeiLanni Nesbeth, is extra-special.
They first met Nesbeth in 2014, when she was getting ready to go to South Africa with the Bermuda Under-13 Academy cricket team, when she and Kayla Raymond were the only two girls on the boys team.
These days, football is Nesbeth’s preferred sport, as she is now playing at No 1-ranked Florida State University, the team she helped win the NCAA National Championship in early December, when they beat BYU 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out in Santa Clara, California.
The Raynors couldn’t be more proud of their ‘granddaughter’, who always makes it a point to visit them at their Southampton home, whenever she is back in Bermuda.
“She’s very good in soccer, first class,” said Eldon Raynor, 88, whose eyes lit up when he heard Nesbeth’s name.
Mrs Raynor added: “She started playing cricket, but she has managed to stay with the soccer. She was a good young cricketer.”
Nesbeth was taught at St David’s Primary by the Raynors’ daughter, Wanda, and now she has formed a unique friendship with the parents. Mrs Raynor was a teacher herself for over 40 years.
“We’re her adopted grandma and grandpa, that’s what she calls us,” said Mrs Raynor, who has a granddaughter, Haley, who is around the same age as LeiLanni.
“I got so excited when I saw her on TV recently, being interviewed by Colin Thompson, and I said ‘Eldon, she is one of the best children that you have ever decided to help in sports,” Barbara Raynor said.
“She spoke like she was about 30. She said ‘at first I just thought I wanted to play soccer to see how many goals I could get in a game’. But after I got playing and seeing how other schools and colleges play, I decided that’s not all there is to it’.
“She said, ‘you have to read your game and know what you’re doing’. I said ‘you sure do, sweetheart’, talking to the TV!”
Eldon Raynor loves to hear about her progress in football, his wife revealed: “It keeps him hopeful because he was talking about how cricket and soccer in Bermuda is not like when he was playing.”
Whenever she is on the island, if she doesn’t get up here to see us, she will call and have a chat.“
Raynor is a former Southampton Rangers and Bermuda all-rounder, who also played in Cup Match for St George’s between 1958 and 1979. He is twelfth in aggregate runs in Cup Match, with 739 runs in 29 innings, including a top score of 79 not out. He also claimed 33 wickets with his spin bowling, which puts him nineteenth on the most wickets list.
He admits that he has introduced Nesbeth to another one of his sports, golf, through the 18-hole putting green he has on his property.
“Whenever she comes up here she’ll be over there putting, she’s very good,” he revealed.
“The Raynors have acted like my extended family,” said Nesbeth, 20, the Junior Female Athlete of the Year in 2019. “I’m always sure to visit them whenever I’m back home and it’s just been great to build a relationship with such great people.
“Mr Raynor was obviously a great athlete in the past, so it’s always nice to hear about his experiences and stories playing cricket. They have a putting green at their house, I play golf up there all the time, so I’ve been able to master my putting skills.
“They have contributed to me and my career in many ways and I’m so appreciative to be able to continue to strengthen my relationship with them.”
It is a connection that Ann Williams, Nesbeth’s grandmother and biggest supporter, has seen develop over the years. She appreciates what the friendship has done for LeiLanni.
“LeiLanni was very fortunate to meet Mr and Mrs Raynor at a young age,” she said. “They met as LeiLanni was preparing to go to South Africa to represent Bermuda with the Under-13 boys Academy cricket team.
“Mr Raynor would have lengthy conversations with her about his cricket and football career. He shared the ups and downs of being an athlete.
“He also told her that academics was very important and that sports would open doors for her to travel worldwide. Whenever she is in Bermuda, she spends time with the Raynors, playing golf, talking or learning gardening techniques.
“Their relationship is beyond special. It is nice to see two amazing athletes from separate eras talk about the games they love so much.”
Nesbeth, who will travel to Jamaica to represent Bermuda in Concacaf World Cup qualifying matches in February, will be the guest speaker at the St David’s Primary School prefect ceremony this morning via Zoom.