Cricket remembers STETHS legend Paul Palmer

By Garfield Myers
Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Monday, April 23, 2018

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth – Even as St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) celebrated their 23rd hold on the all-island Spalding Cup cricket title last Thursday, there was a sombre, muted undertone.

The death three weeks ago of Paul Palmer (Snr), legendary STETHS right-hand batsman from the early 1980s, hung heavy in the consciousness of players, coaches, school leaders and spectators at the STETHS Sports Complex here.

Cricket and in particular STETHS cricket, runs strong in the Palmer family. The late Paul Palmer's teenaged son Nigel, an all-rounder, made a composed half century in the second innings of the Spalding Cup playoff against Innswood High.

Nigel's older brother, Paul Palmer (Jnr), a solid 26-year-old left-hand batsman, captained STETHS seven years ago and is currently a Jamaica Scorpions batsman and sometimes captain.

Also, their uncle and younger brother to the late Paul Palmer (Snr), Dixeth Palmer, is a former STETHS and Jamaica opening batsman.

No wonder then that on lifting the Spalding Cup, having taken first-innings lead over Innswood High in their drawn three-day game, STETHS dedicated the triumph to the late Paul Palmer and his family.

In a touching gesture, Nigel Palmer was invited by his teammates and coach, Clive Ledgister, to formally accept the Spalding Cup. It was handed over by George Henry, principal of Spalding High School and chairman of rural cricket for the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association.

During the rain-affected game with STETHS gradually securing a stranglehold, contemporaries discussed Palmer (Snr) - an authoritative stroke-playing batsman considered among the best never to have played for Jamaica's senior team. Inevitably, friends and admirers also mourned his sad, untimely end.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia (a severe form of mental illness) in the early 2000's, Palmer (Snr) — was in and out of hospital in recent times before being found hanging by family members in Little London, Westmoreland. Relatives and friends theorise that side effects of medication may have helped to trigger extreme depression, leading to his suspected suicide.

Last Thursday, Ledgister told Jamaica Observer Central that Palmer (Snr) had been a positive influence on his sons in relation to cricket and in all aspects of life.

“He told them to respect and recognise everyone as equal… that they shouldn't look up at anyone or look down at anyone,” said Ledgister.

Palmer (Snr) came to STETHS in 1981 from Little London Junior Secondary, having earlier attended Little London Primary. At STETHS he immediately stood out as an attacking batsman, guided by Dr Donovan Bennett who had overall charge of the cricket programme, and the youthful coach, Junior Bennett.

Palmer blended into a powerful STETHS championship winning team which included batsman Nigel Kennedy — after whom Palmer's son Nigel is named — left arm pacer Kenneth 'Snake' McLeod, and the tear-away fast bowler Calvin 'Wappy' Valentine who was also a sublime midfielder. Kennedy and McLeod would later represent Jamaica at cricket while Valentine — who played under under-19 cricket for Jamaica — eventually chose football, playing for Reno football club and the Jamaica senior team.

Palmer excelled not only at cricket but in the pole vault. A late pick for the STETHS athletics team, Palmer went to the Boys' Athletics Championships and won the gold medal in the open event.

Bennett still chuckles at the memory. “After (cricket) training one evening we were coming off the field, and the track and field team were also training, practising the pole vault. Paul looks at me and says 'I am better than those guys' and I say 'how come? No way'. And he says 'Okay, just allow me to go and do a few jumps'. So, Bennett spoke to the athletics coach seeking permission. “Next thing I know Palmer out jump all those who were preparing to do the pole vault for STETHS at Champs and in the end he went to Champs and won the gold medal,” said Bennett.

But that was just an aside —Palmer's true calling was batting. Dominant, particularly against spin and through the onside, he made the Jamaica Under-19 team in 1983. But though he scored heavily at parish and club level, representing Westmoreland, Lucas and Melbourne, he never broke into the national senior team.

Many remember Palmer scoring an unbeaten century in a trial game and being called in by the national selectors, who had presumably seen enough to feel satisfied. But Palmer was still left out of the Jamaica team.

Last Thursday Valentine, who was at STETHS to watch his old school win yet another cricket title, remembered Palmer as a “close, close friend” and a batsman who was very easy on the eyes.

“I always liked to see the way he would come forward, chipping and driving against the spinners… he was very, very good against spin… when you watch him, such a beauty to see…,” said Valentine.

Junior Bennett, a former national junior and senior coach and current chairman of national selectors, was similarly enthused. “He (Palmer) was a very good cricketer; very determined, very reliable, very disciplined and a fierce competitor, one who believed in his own ability… he was an attacking batsman and I always enjoyed watching him play spinners. He used his feet well. when he got to the pitch of the ball, if there is a long-off, long-on, he will go on the ground down there. If the field is up, he goes over the top,” said Junior Bennett. He claimed to see many of those characteristics in Palmer's sons.

“He instilled that positive quality; that they should believe in themselves and their ability,” said Junior Bennett.

Dr Bennett felt Palmer Snr was among the top three batsmen, in terms of “pure talent” to come through the STETHS cricket programme, alongside former Jamaica batsmen Delroy Morgan and Steve Gordon.

“He was also an affable, very well-behaved student,” said Bennett.

When reached by telephone Mark Neita, who captained Palmer at Melbourne, remembered an “outstanding batsman, very upright, very straight, and a very dominant player who was certainly good enough to have played for Jamaica”.

Neita also spoke of an exemplary team player. “He was always laughing, very jovial. he fitted in very well at Melbourne,” said Neita.

Acclaimed cricket writer and former president of Melbourne, Tony Becca remembers Palmer “as an honest cricket, by that I mean that every Saturday, every Sunday, he played to the very best of his ability”.

Becca tagged Palmer as one of the top batsmen at Melbourne at the time, in a star-studded line-up which included Ordelmo Peters, Colin Fletcher, Neita, Robert Samuels and Steve Gordon.

“He was unfortunate not to have played for Jamaica,” said Becca.

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