Thursday, December 14, 2017

Saving youth through sport


THE RIGHT SPIRIT: Cedric Hazelwood, far right, with other recipients of the Spirit of Sport Awards in 2013.

Mark Fraser

Cedric Hazelwood is perhaps one of the most selfless men you will ever meet.

A Vincentian by birth, the 49-year-old is making significant contributions to the community of Laventille, where he now resides, but fame and recognition are the last things on his mind. 

Instead, he is focused on developing the youth in his area, even at his own expense.

Hazelwood wears several hats. He is the founder, president and coach of Laventille United Sports Club (LUSC). Established in 2007, more than 300 young men and women from communities in Laventille, as well as Morvant, Mango Rose and Belmont, have benefited from programmes initiated by LUSC. 

The club, Hazelwood told the Express, was started in order to reform the youths of Laventille, keep them off the streets and afford them better opportunities through sport and academic achievement. 

“I saw the youths of the upper Laventille area involved in gambling, smoking and drinking and no one seemed to show any concern,” said Hazelwood. “I felt like something had to be done because these guys are too young to be going down that road. I knew I couldn’t change the world, but I felt like I could make a difference.”

In January 2007, Hazelwood approached the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) and asked for assistance in funding a “small-goal” football tournament in St Barbs.

 It was during that tournament Hazelwood became aware of just how much talent lay dormant in the youth in the area, just awaiting an opportunity to be showcased.

“I realised that these youths have real talent, but there were no opportunities for them, nobody to guide them,” he said.

Hazelwood recruited eight youths from the small-goal teams and encouraged them to attend practice sessions with him. At every session, the number grew as more and more young men joined the group. 

With a significant number of youths involved, Hazelwood registered them as Laventille United Football Club. 

In 2008, Hazelwood partnered with his sister Velma, who was a netball coach. With both football and netball being offered, the club became Laventille United Sports Club.

 Hazelwood also hopes to incorporate a basketball team in the near future.

Approximately 135 youths are currently involved in the club, which consists of under-10, under-13, under-15 and under-17 football teams, as well as a netball team.

 The football teams have participated in the Eddie Hart League, Northern Football League, Republic Youth Cup and Russell Latapy Cup.

 The netball team entered and placed third in the Republic Bank Laventille Netball League last year.

In 2013, Hazelwood was awarded the Ministry of Sport’s Spirit of Sport Award for his contributions to the Laventille community.

But sport is not the sole focus of the club. Sports is the vehicle but education is the destination, Hazelwood said.

Hazelwood has provided classes in English, maths and Spanish to youths in the community, with funding from the Ministry of People and Social Development.

 At the end of the classes, he said, 30 Laventille youths were presented with certificates, some of whom were initially unable to spell their own names.

“Yes, sport is nice, it keeps the youth active, but to be a big footballer and to make the national team you still have to be educated. Academics is most important.” 

Hazelwood said members are not allowed to play with the team if they do not take academics seriously.

“If you didn’t come classes yesterday, don’t feel you coming and put on any uniform today and play,” said Hazelwood, with a stern expression on his face. 

The club has even attracted members from outside the Laventille area and though Hazelwood said the programme is designed to help the youths of Laventille and environs, outsiders are not turned away.

“Football is a very attractive sport,” Hazelwood said. “So when a youth comes to practise and he’s excited and he goes to school the next day and tells his friends about the club, then they want to join too. So a lot of youths from outside come and get involved.”

The club has received assistance from various organisations over the years, including the East Port of Spain Development Company, the Ministry of Sport, Atlantic LNG and Lucozade.

 But Hazelwood said a significant amount of money to successfully run the club comes from his own pockets.

A CEPEP foreman, Hazelwood said he does not have a lot of money, but he puts aside more than half of his salary to fund the club.

“I don’t want these children to be on the street,” he said. “After the seventh year, I wanted to give up because it takes all my time and a lot of energy and it consumes all my funding. I have to get 45 kids up to the Eddie Hart grounds (in Tacarigua) every Sunday and transport is an issue.

 “I do this without a salary, without compensation, because I have a passion. I want to see these youths advance in life so I can say yes, Laventille United Sports Club was a good asset to them. This is why I do what I do.”

What Hazelwood wants now is an official “clubhouse” or headquarters for LUSC.

Donations to Laventille United Sports Club can be made to FCB account #2187227.

Hazelwood can be contacted for more information at 626-5203 or 330-9604.