April 2020 Volume 16

An interview with Kingston College Multi-Sports Legend (Track, Football) – Bally Reid

Dr. Cedric Lazarus
Text Size
  • -
  • +
  • reset

CL: Bally, we started at KC at the same time but I cannot recall that you were much into track while we were at Melbourne. Were you only a footballer then or were you hiding your track talent in those early years?

BR: One of the reasons it appeared that I was mostly a footballer was the fact that my form, 1C, had the best players in Michael ‘Ratty’ Edwards, Donovan ‘Moonie’ Samms and Bubu Marshall and others, so we dominated first and second form football thus giving the effect that for us football was the thing. This led to many of us making the colt’s team early. My hidden speed showed up during football as I would easily beat players from a distance and through passes.

CL : When exactly did you realize that you had the athletic talent?

BR : I actually had the track ability before KC. Bubu Marshall and I came from the same primary school (Chetolah Park) where I would give the other children a jump start and catch them before the finish line.

CL : You are also an artist in your own right and I think that you drew a couple album covers for several reggae artists. Tell me about the teacher who encouraged your artistic skills at Melbourne.

BR: Not only at Melbourne but also at North Street where I was inspired by the ‘Grand Master’ Alex Cooper. In first form, I remember that one day I was being taught English by Rachel Manley and while she was teaching I sketched a cool little drawing of her in my note book. She requested to see what I was doing and I showed her the sketch. She was impressed and mentioned who her grandmother was - the great Edna Manley. That term, Rachel arranged for me to visit her grandmother on Saturday mornings at her home in Drumblair where Edna Manley taught me how to get deeper into drawing through intense shading and other techniques. At North Street, ‘Alexander The Great’, that is Alex Cooper, did the polishing touches.

CL: You were one of the few lucky ones who had a chance to visit the Manley’s residence at Drumblair. What was Edna Manley like?

BR: One of the things that struck me initially was her passion for art and importantly, sharing that passion and her knowledge of art. Personally she was a very warm person, always giving encouragement not only to me but to her sons, granddaughter and others.

CL: I was hopeless at art but I think that you did the subject all the way to 5th form and O’Levels.

BR: Yes, I did the subject to 5th form for which ‘Grand Master’ Alex Cooper was my inspiration. I can never forget the day he saw me at lunch time playing box football below the art room at North Street. Within seconds I was marched to the art room and instructed to do some work; that work turned out to be the first drawing of Bob Marley in Jamaica which he placed in an exhibit later on.

CL: Let’s talk athletics for which you are a KC icon. On the track who were your biggest rivals at KC?

BR: By the time I had reached class two my sprinting had improved greatly under the training of Mr. Goldsmith with the weight program. Running and training together from class three, Maurice Beecher and I became the leading sprinters in class two. By the second year in class 2 we were first and second in both the 100m and 200m at Champs. By first year class one we were the attention of the entire school and beyond.

CL: I recall that people came from far and wide, and in their hundreds, to see Bally vs Beecher on Sports Day. How did you maintain your focus with those massive crowds at North Street?

BR: With Kingston College on a winning streak since 1962, Sports Day was like Champs where people came to see all the best we had. We took Sports Day very seriously as we all wanted our houses to win. For a while my house, Hardie, was winning just like at Champs. With this in mind the focus was like Champs. Sports Day was KC’s preview for Champs. Interestingly enough it was here at Sports Day that new talents emerged and contributed points for their houses.

CL: What was your pet track event at KC?

BR: With a shorter body built for sprinting, the 100m was the choice.

CL: Do you remember your times in these events in your first year in Class 1 at Champs?

BR: How can I forget? it was quite eventful! I won both the 100m and 200m in 1975, setting a new record in the 100m of 10.40s (the record being 10.6s). We won for the 14th year straight, by 18 points. Interestingly, my personal points contribution was 18 points!

CL: That Class 1 200m finals at Champs in 1975 still lives in the memories of all who saw it and, to many, it epitomized the Fortis spirit? Tell us what happened in that race.

BR: Fortis then, Fortis now and Fortis Forever! That event is my blessing that Kingston College has bestowed upon me. I am still trying to figure it out after all these years. Having taking first and second in both sprint events in class two, we (Maurice Beecher and I) were now in first year class one, and planned to maintain the dominance of the sprint double. Unfortunately, Maurice pulled his hamstring a few weeks before Champs and could not compete. Having broken the 100m record early the first day, I was determined to win every race I ran from heats to finals. About 45 minutes before the 200m final my main rival, who many predicted would have won the 100m, told me that his blocks had slipped in the 100m and that he would beat me in the 200m. I said to myself that that was not going to happen. Knowing that points were still critical I was prepared to give everything to beat my rival and get maximum points for KC. I got a brilliant start and covered the first two lanes in front of me in a flash. In mid-corner I caught the stagger. Coming to the end of the turn I called for the over- drive which responded with a rip in a muscle in my upper right thigh! My first reaction was shock and I then instinctively grabbed my leg to slow down. At the same time something triggered and a voice said, ‘Can’t yield, it’s purple blood!’ I immediately let go of my leg and pressed with all my strength to the finish line, equaling the record time for the race. Thus the sprint double in my 1st year in class one.

CL: Amazing. I cannot think of another athlete who won the sprint double in their first year in class one. Like all who saw that 200m race I will never forget it. Seems you would have broken the 200m record as well had it not been that ‘rip in a muscle’ as you put it. Who were your biggest rivals at Champs that year and later?

BR: Samuels of STATHS, Roberts of Wolmer’s and Herb McKenley Jr. of Calabar.

CL: Football or track? Which did you prefer?

BR : Tough call, I loved both.


CL: What were your favourite subjects at KC?

BR: Physics, art and math.

CL: Favourite teacher?

BR: Mr. Bromwell, mathematics teacher.

CL: Favourite coach? (Football/track)

BR: George Thompson.

CL: On leaving KC you got a track scholarship to the USA. How did you adapt to life in your first few years at university?

BR: The running was tough as we ran at track meets for fourteen of the sixteen weeks of school in the track term with only one meet at our school and thirteen at the other colleges. Thus we had to travel every week. It was very tiring and stressful as I was playing football as well.

CL: How did you balance academics and athletics in those years?

BR: The first two years were fair as I was still fresh and the full direction of studies had not yet taken hold. It was when I decided to major in physics that things began to change. I went on a road trip for a week while playing soccer for my university. Upon return to school I realized that I had missed a lot of lectures as they were not waiting for me. So at the end of the term I hung up my boots.

CL: Did you represent Jamaica in athletics while in university?

BR: No. At the time politics had gotten in the way of the Olympics over that period with the politically motivated boycott by many countries of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and the LA Olympics in 1984. I had planned to train to make the Jamaica team for the 1980 Olympics but with the US boycott my training at college was disrupted. After that I just forgot it.

CL: What is your fondest memory of university?

BR: At a national meet for college track, I ran my fastest time in the 100m, 10.2s. In that memorable semi-final race five runners split the time of 10.1s to 10.2s. A photo had to be used to determine the correct placements.

CL: What was your major in university?

BR: Having a love of the subject from KC, physics was the choice.

CL: What did you do after graduation?

BR: Actually, just before graduation I decided to fulfill a wish I had for some time. This was to visit Africa.

CL: Yes, in the mid ‘90s I heard a rumour that you had hitch-hiked and walked across Africa. Was that true?

BR: Yes I did, this was from ‘91 to ‘93. This was probably the best thing I did with my life. That was an experience squared, to use a mathematical term.

CL: Why did you choose to do that and which countries did you visit?

BR: While studying physics at university in Texas the notion of enlightenment was booming in America with eastern philosophy such as Zen, Taoism and others being related to the principle and laws of physics. Knowing that knowledge began in Africa, I was certain that the same similarities could be found in African philosophy and mysticism. The only way I could know this was to visit the mother land. The countries that I travelled through were Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. I probably traveled over 2,000 miles by hitchhiking, walking, taxis and buses.

CL: What did that pilgrimage, if we can call it that, teach you?

BR: Yes, I can call it that as it was a pilgrimage and more. Teachings, to be truthful, were so many and some are still unfolding as they are personal. One of the teachings is that as humans we all share the same experiences and as Africans there is philosophy and culture in understanding nature similar to the laws of natural science.

CL: After returning to Jamaica you eventually ended up teaching physics at KC until 2017. What was that experience like?

BR: The experience was an experience. Many times I would sit back and laugh to myself as I compared my time as a student with the current time. Sharing my experiences with the students while teaching gave me the feeling that I had completed the circle.

CL: When you were teaching at KC did the boys know of your athletic and football brilliance in the 1970s?

BR: Most of the students eventually learnt about it as it is mentioned in the book ‘The History of KC’ by Anthony Johnson which is required reading in the seventh grade.

CL: What advice would you give student-athletes at KC today?

BR: Work hard both mentally and physically - in today’s world athletics can be a full time job if you are good at it.

CL: If you could start over what would you have done differently?

BR: I am relatively satisfied with what the universe has provided for me and hope for continued blessings.

CL: You are now teaching physics at St Catherine High. Are you enjoying it?

BR: I am happy to be given continued opportunity to continue to enlighten students on the subject of the natural laws of nature. I do enjoy it – last year we achieved a ninety-five percent pass rate in physics. And, by the way, the principal is a young KC Old Boy!

CL: Thanks a million Bally, you are truly an inspiration.

Top of Page