Columns

Working with Mr Becca

Curtis
Myrie

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Lifetime imprints are often made, quietly or even dramatically, from the stroke and score of their impact, if cricket parlance is not only applicable but allowed. From such imprints there are special stories to tell — sometimes out of school — but worth every tale being told… like the story I wish to share about working with Mr Becca… Tony Becca… sports journalist, sports editor, who shone at the crease as cricket scribe, consummately stroking and scoring all that he wrote about the game beyond real and perceived boundaries.

It's no memoriam. Imprints are seldom images of the past. Pictures of an album never gathering dust, taken over years like only yesterday, these photos are snapshots of the renewal required today.

I met him at age 15… 47 years ago… a fourth form student at St George's College. Joe Kijanski (pardon the spelling), US and Jamaican immigrant, taught us English in fourth and fifth form. Rebel revered, irreverent and a complete riot, this short but towering man on values to be maintained even in the midst of protest, revived the Blue & White Magazine — school publication that had not hit the press for years.

The Sports Department proved an interesting mix. Sports editor was the now deceased Anthony Smith, “Zoanie”, “Cat” from the Payne Avenue (Payne Land) community — one of the first nine-wicket-taking Sunlight Cup high school cricketers. Child of mischief but 'full of brains' (who like bright boy Dennis Lyn would only be seen with an exercise book) Zoanie was an exemplary student athlete. Disruptive, he was still the first man who would help you with your studies.

The intellectually muscular Clyde McKenzie, third former, and myself, living across from each other in the Jones Town community, made up the rest of the team — he a senior, me a junior member of the school's lawn tennis team. Both of us are proud of writing, while still in school, to African American tennis ace Arthur Ashe to facilitate the construction of two tennis courts at All Saints Primary School in our community… influence and impact of the late Fr James Hosie, former tennis coach and headmaster, one of a progressive team of Jesuits who were particular agents of equal and increasing opportunity.

Kijanski (that's what we called him) eagerly brought the news one day (the year was 1972) that the late Raymond Sharpe, sports editor of The Gleaner, had seen the Blue & White magazine and had written to the school seeking freelance sports reporters — especially over the summer period.

Clyde and I answered the call (later to be joined by Anthony East and Donovan “Bunny” Green) and soon we were edited column-inch reporters on tennis, cricket, football, and basketball in The Gleaner and the Star.

Months after I drifted to the Jamaica Daily News — a tabloid that was the nation's second daily newspaper. The sports editor was Gillie Afflick… but you quietly took stock of and held your gaze on senior sports reporter Tony Becca.

He was quite a story.

I spent only months in that first stint because of upcoming GCE fifth form exams but he still made quite a mark. There was a quietness and calm about him which appealed, if even nervously, to the rebel inside you. On returning to the Daily News on leaving sixth form, at almost six in the evening from knocking all day, unsuccessfully, on the doors of financial institutions, here he was ...again, unruffled… an ease of engagement that you had to be taking stock of once more.

Mr Tony Becca was then the sports editor. He listened quietly to my story, smiling almost impishly at my slump in the interview chair and my sigh at reluctantly returning to journalism. Simply brushing it aside, he spoke softly of making the best of what was before me… and how all this could yet make a man out of me.

What he offered was quite challenging. I could not start immediately on the Sports Desk, there wasn't any vacancy through that door, but I could first be engaged to work along with him on his sports magazine, a weekly 36-48 page publication in which we would always be pursuing and presenting special features. Sure, certain stories in the daily publication would be edited and reprinted given their appeal and interest, but this weekly magazine had to be fresh — with its own lure to sustain shelf life.

My eyes popped but he quickly dismissed my nervous reaction by reminding me about a story I had told him about Mr Kijanski.

My English teacher was a reserve member of one of the senior league's basketball teams. I would leave the basketball courts at the National Stadium after the first round of matches (on his insistence). On reaching school early the following day he would provide statistics and various highlights of the other rounds of matches. By lunch time I had to submit stories for The Gleaner and the Daily News to him that captured different areas of interest. Demanding drill, they contributed to my grades (a story taken out of school). Punishing programme that it was, no protest was ever entertained.

Mr Becca smiled cheekily as he remarked, “it's the same thing I want from you when you were working for both newspapers — what you first did for your English teacher, I cannot pronounce his name — before Baz Freckleton told the guards to stop you from coming to The Gleaner because you were also working for us,” (another story out of school). “Examine everything and create different angles, different stories,” he went on, “and that's how you keep people's interest.”

Increasingly producing stories of special interest was not added value. It was what was daily pursued and even demanded — photos, snapshots… imprint and impact … requiring renewal.

He was an interesting man — in an interesting place. Dapperly clad (even when playing cricket and table tennis) he was a gentleman, and comfortable in his own skin. He would quietly tell you what was expected, and when you were preparing for confrontation he would tell you with a straight face — and straight bat — that you could go quarrel with yourself as he was taking no excuses.

Bunny Green and I, at age 18, were once on our own at the Sports Desk because both Becca and Hubert Gray were away overseas for Test cricket and the Olympics, respectively. Putting together regular sports pages and a supplement, which had suddenly dropped in our laps, we did not sleep for 36 hours. “You are better off for it,” was his chuckling reply.

He was hardly flustered, and he would stay his ground. In the social tumult of the '70s he was not about to budge if his views were at times unpopular. And he remained consistent about standards, especially as time evolved. He would bristle often, fervent but without with the bar room clamour, about the attending passions of upcoming West Indies cricketers. They were to be paid more for sure but were they true representatives of the region's pavilions? Did they know what the game meant to the ordinary man? What really did they know, if the game of cricket was all that they thought they needed to know? How committed were they and just how much of themselves were they prepared to give…?

These are the snapshots I have kept — framed and mounted… imprint and impact of the renewal required this very day.

— Curtis Myrie is a veteran sports journalist and marketer


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