Central committee met with Tony James Group on football leaguePOSTED: 10/7/13 12:47 PM
St. Maarten – Last Friday the Central Committee heard a presentation from the Tony James Group on the establishment of a St. Maarten youth football camp and program. President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell, who chaired the meeting, said “it was a pleasure to finally be able to have this public information session by the Tony James Group in order for the Members of Parliament as well as the public of St. Maarten to see and hear for themselves what this project is all about.”
She explained that the presentation focused on the goals of the program and how it would impact tourism and economic development on the island, the improvements to the stadium at the Raul Illidge Sports Complex, and the headquartering of the Caribbean youth football league on St. Maarten.
Tony Wiley, an American with West Indian roots and founder of the Tony James Group, pointed out that he was following up with a chance meeting with Arrindell in Washington DC, where he asked her “what’s the status of young people on her island.” He said Arrindell told him “they need something to help.” He asked what she thought of the idea of a youth football league on the island and she said she liked it. “And that’s why we’re here. We’re here to publicly tell you what this is about,” Wiley said.
He asked to imagine that you’re watching a US college football game “and a player from St. Maarten scores a touchdown. They cut to the sidelines and they have cheerleaders. You recognize a young lady from St. Maarten,” and to imagine “a parade down main street celebrating a native son being drafted to play national football. Imagine little boys and little girls from this island having something to do after school,” Wiley envisioned.
With enough community support behind it, Wiley felt the Raul Illidge Sports Complex could become the “premier sporting complex of the entire Caribbean. That can host other events, sparking economic investment, providing jobs.”
Wiley said that other youth who are not athletically gifted could become involved in other aspects of the industry, like sports medicine, sports journalism, or public relations, for example. “That can become a reality, and that reality starts today,” he said. ‘I’m living proof, folks, I’m not athletically gifted but I’ve spent a career working in sports for the last 21 years.”
“You may be asking, why football? In the United States football is the number one sport. Football has the budget to provide scholarships to international students. If you have the skills, they’re going to come find you,” Wiley explained.
He said he wants to form a partnership with government to raise funds, “that we’ll split 50-50” to upgrade the existing facilities. He pointed out that he already has a sponsor – an apparel company – that will provide the uniforms.
Wiley hopes to launch a weeklong camp will feature professional football players and coaches, including a program to train local coaches. It will take place next June, Wiley said, for 250 kids in ages between 7 and 12, and a middle school camp for older kids.
Wiley said it will be the start of a Caribbean wide youth football league. “We’re making history. And we’re going to do it here because St. Maarten is the most progressive island, it’s the most technologically sound island.”
Wiley encouraged government to support the initiative with a financial contribution of $500,000 which will be matched by corporate sponsors. The program was initially supported by the former UP/DP government but was scrapped by the NA. MPs, however, were generally positive and favorable to the idea.