How can one describe the sports scene in the Virgin Islands during 2020?
There’s plenty of words that would be appropriate — maddening, uplifting, disappointing, exciting, upsetting, incredible, frustrating ... and interesting. Those words also describe the mix of items that make up The Daily News’ top 10 stories from the last year, in descending order:
Ex-major leaguer, St. Croix’s Horace Clarke passes at age 81
10 U.S. Virgin Islands native Horace “Hoss” Clarke, who spent a decade playing in the major leagues for two different teams, passed away Wednesday, Aug. 5, in Laurel, Md. He was 81.
Clarke, who played in the same era as the late Elrod Hendricks and the late Elmo Plaskett, holds the record for the most games played in the majors by a Virgin Islander at 1,272.
Clarke was born June 2, 1939, in Frederiksted on St. Croix, graduating from the old Christiansted High School. Soon after, he was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1958. Clarke made his major league debut early in the 1965 season, and became the Yankees’ starting second baseman in 1967 with the retirement of veteran Bobby Richardson.
Clarke soon became one of the Yankees’ most popular players during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but his tenure ended midway through the 1974 season when his contract was sold to the San Diego Padres. He went on to retire after the season.
He also spent 10 seasons (1958-1968) in the Puerto Rico Winter League with three different teams. A two-time league All-Star, he hit .270 with 12 home runs, 140 RBIs and 52 steals in his career.
After retiring from the major leagues, Clarke returned to St. Croix and became a baseball instructor with the V.I. Sports, Parks and Recreation Department until 1997, and an assistant scout with the Kansas City Royals during the mid-1980s.
In 2001, Clarke was one of the first inductees into both the Virgin Islands Sports Hall of Fame and the International African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (now called the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame). He also had the ballpark beside Arthur A. Richards Junior High School named in his honor in 2014.
Sanes named All-America in COVID-shortened season
9 St. Croix native Adriel Sanes was one of four University of Denver swimmers who were named to the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America’s All-America team, which was released Wednesday, April 8.
Sanes, who was finishing up his junior year with the Pioneers when the season was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, earned CSCAA All-America honors in two events — the men’s 100-meter breaststroke and men’s 200-meter freestyle relay. He was a first-time qualifier for the NCAA Championships in those events, as well as four others — the men’s 200-meter breaststroke, men’s 200- and 400-meter medley relays, and men’s 400-meter freestyle relay.
It made Sanes just the third U.S. Virgin Islands swimmer to be named All-American, and the first in 16 years — and all are from St. Croix. Shelley Cramer, a three-time USVI Olympian (1976, 1984 and 1992), was also a three-time All-American at the University of South Carolina (1982-1984); and 2008 USVI Olympian Josh Laban was a two-time All-American at the University of Georgia (2003-2004).
Normally, the CSCAA determines its All-America honorees based on the results of the NCAA Championships — finalists in each event earn first-team honors, while “B finalists” (the ninth thru 16th-place finishers) are named honorable mentions.
However, with the NCAAs cancelled, the CSCAA’s board of directors went back to the process used until 1985, having a panel of college swim coaches make the picks, with no differentiating between first team and honorable mention.
Sanes had earned the men’s most valuable performer award at the Summit League Championships in late February by winning five gold medals and setting four league records, as well as earning all-Summit League honors in six events.
Roundabout sailing season for Taylor Canfield
8 Just two years ago, St. Thomas native Taylor Canfield was living his dream, as helmsman of Stars & Stripes Team USA, one of the challengers for the 36th America’s Cup.
But as defending America’s Cup champion Emirates Team New Zealand and the challengers prepare for the start later this month in Auckland Harbor in New Zealand, Canfield is back in the U.S.
And Stars & Stripes Team USA? Apparently sidelined due to a lack of funding and sponsorship, although details are sketchy.
While no official announcement has come from Stars & Stripes Team USA, its sponsoring club, the Long Beach (Calif.) Yacht Club, informed its members in early December that they had formally withdrawn from the America’s Cup.
Canfield, along with skipper Mike Buckley, had co-founded Stars & Stripes Team USA in 2018 as one of two American challengers for the America’s Cup (the other is American Magic, backed by the New York Yacht Club).
However, according to published reports, the team was constantly and consistently behind the curve in relation to the other entrants — and were strangely quiet in regards into letting the rest of the sailing world know what was going on.
While Stars & Stripes Team USA was “dead in the water,” so to speak, Canfield was staying busy.
Canfield was set to sail as with the U.S. team in the SailGP series, but its season was aborted by the coronavirus pandemic. But he and some of his Stars & Stripes Team USA crewmates won both the 70th Bermuda Gold Cup and 2020 Open Match Racing World Championship in late October in Bermuda.
Linval Joseph signs with NFL’s L.A. Chargers
7 Under normal circumstances, Linval Joseph would be in the gym for hours and hours every day, getting ready for the NFL preseason workouts.
Instead, with training facilities shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, the St. Croix native worked out at his Minnesota home — and did some apartment hunting for a move to Los Angeles, more than 1,500 miles away.
“The last month has thrown me for a little loop,” said Joseph, who finalized a two-year, $17 million contract with the L.A. Chargers on Tuesday, March 31, after playing the past six years with the Minnesota Vikings.
Joseph, a 6-foot-4, 329-pound defensive tackle, was released by the Vikings on March 13 in a salary-cap move. He had three years remaining on a five-year, $50 million contract extension signed in 2017, and would have had $5.3 million of his 2020 salary of $11.15 million guaranteed had he been on Minnesota’s roster March 20.
The Chargers added Joseph to a defense that already had talented defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III on the line, and had also signed former Cincinnati linebacker Nick Vigil and Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. as free agents.
Joseph — who has a Super Bowl ring (with the New York Giants in Super Bowl LXVI in 2011) and made the Pro Bowl twice (in 2016 and 2017 with the Vikings) — finished the 2020 season with 62 tackles as the Chargers went 7-9.
St. Croix’s Kristene Kelly joins staff at Vanderbilt
6 Kristene Kelly took another step upward in her career as a college athletics administrator — this time joining a school affiliated with one of the nation’s top athletic conferences.
The native of Frederiksted, St. Croix, was named Monday, Sept. 14, as deputy athletics director for internal affairs at Vanderbilt University, an NCAA Division I program in Nashville, Tenn., that is a founding member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
There, Kelly also assumed the role as the Commodores’ senior women’s administrator, as well as serve as the athletic department’s liaison with Vanderbilt’s Title IX Office and Office of the Dean of Students. She will also serve on the athletic department’s executive team.
Kelly joined the Commodores’ athletics staff less than seven months after she had been promoted to executive associate athletics director for varsity sports at Dartmouth College, where she had oversight of the Ivy League school’s 35 NCAA Division I sports.
Kelly had been at Dartmouth since August 2018, when she was named senior associate athletics director for varsity sports. In that role, she oversaw eight varsity sports, and was responsible for the department’s NCAA compliance staff and the varsity athletics communications office.
Before joining the staff at Dartmouth, Kelly was athletics director at Keene (N.H.) State University for two years, overseeing 18 sports for the NCAA Division III Owls; and was the associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C., supervising the day-to-day operations for the Historically Black College and University’s 14-sport program.
Kelly is a 2000 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., earning bachelor’s degrees in physical education and communication arts. She began her career in collegiate athletics as an academic counselor and graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee in the 2001-02 school year.
She began working toward her master’s at Tennessee in human performance and sport studies, completing her degree the following year while starting a new job as sports information director at Johnson C. Smith, a post she held for 6½ years. Kelly also earned her doctorate in sport management from the United States Sports Academy in July 2014.
Still no racing in the USVI
5 Owners and fans had been looking forward to the day that horse racing would resume in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Had things gone according to plan, that could have been happening by the end of May.
Instead, two events — totally unrelated to each other — have set back the sport’s return to the territory indefinitely.
The first was the coronavirus pandemic, which has had the USVI under a state of emergency since March 13 and under restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people since March 23. However, the second — the federal lawsuit between Southland Gaming and the USVI government — has set back the reopening of the tracks indefinitely.
VIGL Operations had taken over operations to open “racinos” at the two tracks — Randall “Doc” James Race Track on St. Croix and Clinton E. Phipps Race Track on St. Thomas — under an October 2019 agreement signed by then-Gov. Kenneth Mapp, backed by supporting legislation rushed into law nearly a month later.
However, the status of VIGL’s agreement was cast into doubt after U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, in an April 10 ruling, agreed with Southland Gaming that its Video Lottery Terminal machines “are interchangeable, and in many cases are in fact identical” to the video slot machines operated by VIGL Operations on St. Croix.
VIGL Operations has since been released from the federal suit, and negotiations are currently ongoing between St. Thomas-based Southland Gaming and the USVI government. VIGL has also decided not to seek an extension of its temporary licensing and promotion agreements to operate the tracks.
The V.I. Sports, Parks and Recreation Department — technically the owner of the two race tracks — has begun the process of transferring some functions such as power and water service from VIGL to the department, according to commissioner Calvert White.
As for when the tracks will reopen — even to allow horses to resume training — that is still up in the air.
Shakeup in UVI athletics
4 The University of the Virgin Islands’ athletics department went through a shakeup after it was penalized by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for rules violations.
Both Wilberto Ramos, the school’s athletics director since September 2016, and men’s basketball coach Jeff Jones, who had held the job since June 2017, were removed from their jobs in mid-March, although their contracts were paid off through the end of the school year.
Their departure came on the heels of the UVI’s athletics programs being suspended by the NAIA from postseason competition for the 2019-2020 academic year — which was moot considering the NAIA canceled all winter and spring championships due to the pandemic — and placed on probation for the 2020-2021 academic year.
The probation involves the school’s men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s and women’s track and field teams.
A letter dated March 3 from the NAIA, obtained by The Daily News through a V.I. Open Records Act request, noted a chief official cited concerns over “blatant disregard for the NAIA bylaws” by UVI athletics officials in issuing the postseason ban and probation.
The NAIA also ordered UVI officials to conduct an audit in all sports over the last three academic years to determine if any ineligible athletes had taken part, and is requiring UVI athletics and other school officials to undergo “required rules education training” once the school has hired replacements for Ramos and Jones.
Their replacements came on board just before the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Jerel Drew, who has nearly a decade’s experience in collegiate athletics administration at both the NCAA and NAIA levels, was named the Buccaneers’ new athletics director on Aug. 15. UVI then named veteran coach Alfonzo Duncan to head the Buccaneer’s men’s basketball team on Nov. 6.
Boston named nation’s top center as freshman
3 When Aliyah Boston signed on with South Carolina, even she didn’t expect the kind of freshman season the St. Thomas native would have with the Gamecocks — or the honors that went with it.
Tops among those was being named winner of the Lisa Leslie Award for women’s college basketball’s top center by the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Association.
The 6-foot-5 Boston became the second Gamecocks player in three years to receive the Lisa Leslie Award, following A’ja Wilson in 2018.
Boston also swept the national freshman of the year awards from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and ESPN. She was also named second team All-America by both the Associated Press and the USBWA, and earned honorable mention All-America from the WBA.
Boston, a first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick, was a key player in the Gamecocks’ 32-1 season, which included a 26-game winning streak (13 of those coming against ranked opponents) and a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 for 10 consecutive weeks, including the season’s final poll.
Boston began the 2020-2021 season with more honors, with an unanimous selection to the AP preseason All-America team and on the watch lists for several national awards.
Tim Duncan to be inducted into Naismith Hall of Fame
2 Over Tim Duncan’s basketball career, he’s accumulated the awards that come with being one of the world’s best players. Now the St. Croix native can add the capper.
Duncan was one of four players and nine people overall named to the 2020 class that will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year.
The Class of 2020 — announced Saturday, April 4 — also includes the late Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tamika Catchings; coaches Kim Mulkey, Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovch and Barbara Stevens; and contributor Patrick Baumann.
Duncan and the rest of the Class of 2020 were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in ceremonies in Springfield, Mass. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, those ceremonies will be held May 13-15, 2021, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
This will be the third Hall of Fame that can count Duncan as one of its inductees. He was named to Wake Forest University’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, and into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Duncan, who retired after the 2015-2016 season, was a two-time All-American and the National Player of the Year with Wake Forest in 1997.
After earning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award in 1998, Duncan went on to craft a Hall of Fame-worthy career with San Antonio. In 19 seasons, he led the Spurs to five NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014), and earned NBA Finals MVP honors three times (1999, 2003 and 2005).
Duncan was also named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player twice (2002 and 2003), and was voted to the NBA All-Star Game 15 times, including 12 straight years between 2000-2011. He was also a 15-time All-NBA selection, including 10 times as a first-teamer, and a 15-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection (eight times as a first-team pick).
COVID-19 and its impact on Virgin Islands sports
1 The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was also felt in the Virgin Islands, including among the territory’s sports teams and programs.
The first to feel the impact were the territory’s interscholastic athletic programs, which were called off beginning in the spring as schools went to “virtual only” classes.
The islands’ sports, parks and recreation departments were close behind, shutting down their own athletic programs and closing up gyms and athletic facilities.
The lockdown also affected events that drew international visitors, as well.
The U.S. Virgin Islands Soccer Association had to cancel a planned six-nation women’s soccer tournament planned for early April, and its senior men’s team’s training camp and an international friendly against St. Kitts and Nevis. The shutdown also affected the USVISA’s Premier League, and its youth programs.
Sailing events were also affected across the Caribbean. The St. Thomas International Regatta and International Optimist Regatta were canceled, as was the 2020 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the BVI Spring Regatta.
Then came the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on March 24, just four months before the Games were scheduled to begin.
Things didn’t get any better as the months drug along — Paradise Jam, the annual men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments held on St. Thomas, were moved stateside for the second time in the past four years.
UVI also called off its entire 2020-2021 athletics schedule.
Some events were able to be held — fishing tournaments on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, for example; and the BVI Football Association resumed league play. But for the rest, it’s still “wait and see” when sporting activities will resume in the territory.