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Bahamian pride was strong at CARIFTA Swimming Championships

Driving down the Errol Barrow Highway and passing the Barbados Aquatics Center during the 34th CARIFTA Swimming Championships held April 20-24, the sounds of cowbells, drums, scrapers, whistles and horns were heard overpowering the announcer and even the music at the championships in Wildey, Barbados.

Those sounds came from the parents, families and supporters of the Bahamian CARIFTA swim team cheering and pushing them as they swam in the pool.

The aquamarine, gold and black were the showstoppers at the games as other spectators took time out to record videos and take pictures of the loudest fans at the pool.

On the cowbells was Lester Taylor out of Grand Bahama, father of boys 15-17 swimmer Lamar Taylor. 

“Every time there is a Bahamas swimming cap on the blocks you can hear the cowbells,” Taylor said.

“It is basically showing The Bahamas’ culture with the cowbells cheering each swimmer along. If it’s my son or my daughter or any swimmer with the Bahamian cap on – I am ringing my bells.”

The elder Taylor said he was once a part of the old Saxons group but since he moved to Freeport he has not been affiliated with any group. He still owns a set of cowbells that he brings with him to CARIFTA and the CCAN Games.

A hoarse Tanya Sastre, mother of swimmer Mia Sastre and Gabriel Sastre, the water polo under-19 boys captain, said she’s been in Barbados since the CARIFTA Water Polo team played from April 12-14.

She’s attended CARIFTA for the last four years for her son. She can be seen high in the stands shaking the aquamarine, gold and black pom-poms.

“The pom-poms are for camaraderie,” Sastre said.

“It represents the 242 in the house. I am a former cheerleader and it makes me happy to do it again in the stands. We are a small country compared to the other countries participating. For our kids to see us in the stands, showing our love and Bahamian pride for them, it makes them swim harder in the pools.”

Darren Bastian, father of boys 15-17 prolific swimmer Izaak Bastian, said this is his eighth straight year making the trip to CARIFTA. He’s  been coming since his older son Drew Bastian was on the team.

Two days before competition, the Bahamian supporters were erecting flags up in the stadium to mark their territory. It was a well-marked territory.

“Many people don’t know that there is even some competition with the cheering,” Bastian said.

“Positioning is very important. One of the first things that we do as an extended team is to come down to the stadium early and we mark a spot. That is where all the Bahamians are going to be. The other countries do the same thing as well. We always come early to get prime real estate, so to speak. It is best to be positioned near the end of the pool or somewhere near the middle, where you can see the races end. Choosing a good spot is very important.”

Melinda Moss, mother of girls 13-14 swimmer Keianna Moss, did not have any instruments or pom-poms but she could be heard screaming the loudest for any swimmer who wore The Bahamas’ swim cap. This was her second year at CARIFTA.

“The kids said they can hear me in the water so anyone wearing the Bahamian hat I scream my head off for them. I encourage them to let them know we are behind them,” Moss said.

On Good Friday, Moss was one of the organizers of a Bahamian fish-fry with native dishes like peas and grits and fried snappers. There were also hot cross buns.

“It was supposed to be for the officials and the parents staying at the home where I was,” she said.

“It started to grow as more parents wanted to come, so we had a great fish-fry to bring the parents together. It was great camaraderie because we are all from different clubs but when we put that Bahamian flag on us that means that we are one. We try to keep it as close as possible.”

She said that she wants to continue doing it.

Also a part of the cheering team were Gillian Beckles-Slatter and David Slatter, seven-time and fourth straight Bahamas national bowling champion. They are the parents of girls 15-17 swimmer Katherine Slatter. This was their fourth CARIFTA.

“It is always amazing,” Beckles-Slatter said.

“The Bahamas’ parents and family support team is very effervescent. We come with a strong supporting team. We don’t only come along to watch, we know how important it is for the parents and supporters to cheer the team. The kids look for us and we come in full force supporting any Bahamian child.”

On day two of competition, Keianna Moss went to receive her gold medal for winning the girls 13-14 50m backstroke race. Unfortunately, the person who plays the recorded national anthem played the wrong anthem – twice. The Bahamian supporters displayed true Bahamian pride when they began to sing “March on Bahamaland” in sync, leaving the other supporters staring in amazement.

David Slatter said, “I won’t say we were offended by the mistake. We just adapted to the situation when the flag went up and we just started to sing the national anthem. There were about 40 persons singing the national anthem in sync. That was a proud moment.”

The team won a whopping 73 medals after the four-day meet, dominating its Caribbean counterparts in grand style. The Bahamas grabbed 35 gold, 18 silver and 20 bronze medals. The 35 gold medals were also one of the highest gold-medal counts ever at the junior regional swim meet.

Jamaica finished second with 59 total medals – 22 gold, 25 silver and 12 bronze. Behind them in third was Trinidad and Tobago with 43 medals – 17 gold, 12 silver and 14 bronze.

The Bahamas was also first in the points standings, winning comfortably with 889.50 overall points. Jamaica was 141.50 points behind The Bahamas with 748 points, to finish second. Trinidad and Tobago finished third with 676 points.

The Bahamas team won its third straight CARIFTA swimming title, and fifth in the last six years.

Sports Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas.
Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism
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