Born and raised in the cricketing hotbed of Holder’s Hill, St James Franklyn Stephenson’s intention has always been the preservation of Barbados’ legacy in the sport that made the island’s name for excellence.
The ambition finally came to fruition on Friday when, with the backing of corporate sponsors, state agencies, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. and Invest Barbados, and well-wishers, two age-group teams from the Franklyn Stephenson Academy, the facility he conceived and virtually built himself, headed for England to meet him there.
Over the coming two weeks, the 31 Under-16s and Under-11s from 17 different second and primary schools play in the West Cricket Festival in Somerset, as well as in Cornwall, Suffolk, where their hosts are the Royal Hospital School that toured Barbados earlier this year, and London. Along with parents and ancillary staff, there are 65 in the group.
As an outstanding, multi-talented sportsman, several paths were open to Stephenson when his nomadic intercontinental cricket career ended in 1997.
After touring England with the West Indies youth team in 1978 and debuted for Barbados four years later, he turned out for three counties over a decade, creating an impressive reputation as a dynamic all-rounder in England where he might have pursued a position as specialised coach there.
There were surely similar opportunities for such contracts elsewhere for a player of his record – 8 622 runs in 219 matches at 27.99 with 12 first-class hundreds (one in each innings for Nottinghamshire against Yorkshire in 1988), 792 wickets at 24.26 with ten or more wickets in a match ten times (one in that same match).
Foray into golf
His talent later allowed him to become a qualified golf professional. In that capacity, he might have considered a post at one of the multitude of golf clubs the world over.
Instead, Stephenson yearned to return to Barbados after years spent playing in England, Tasmania and South Africa where his participation in the 1983 and 1984 tours with the West Indies “rebel” teams brought him an extended ban from the West Indies board that effectively scuppered his clear-cut prospects of Test cricket.
Back home, he was signed on as professional at Sandy Lane Golf Club, simultaneously devoting his spare time to coaching young cricketers. After a while, he levelled off an open piece of land adjoining his house and put down a couple of pitches.
The project seemed doomed when the owner of the property reclaimed it; a chance meeting with Timothy Oulton, head of the classic, globally known British furniture design company that bears his name, pointed Stephenson in the direction that was his ultimate destination, a quality cricket academy.
Oulton lives four months of the year at his Barbados residence, Cockade House, initially a sugar plantation house built in the 1700s and set in over seven acres of land. It is located a few minutes from the Sandy Lane course, tucked away down a rocky side road just off the Ronald Mapp Highway.
Oulton’s main sporting passion is rugby; he sponsored the Barbados team to the Hong Kong Sevens last year. It was through his two sons’ interest in cricket that he asked Stephenson to give them a few coaching sessions on a small playing field at Cockade where there was a pitch and a net.
One thing led to another. Stephenson’s imagination extended to transforming it into the academy he had always envisaged. Oulton gave him the go ahead and offered him the land on a knockdown lease. But he told him that it was up to him to make the conversion.
Stephenson called Sir Charles Williams, seeking assistance with the necessary grading. Even with input from a few sponsors, an estimate of $85 000 was way beyond his means. So he commissioned just enough of the machinery from Williams Construction to complete the work; the bill dropped to $26 000, even lower with the 15 per cent discount.
The next phases were clearing the field of rocks, planting grass, preparing pitches and designing and building the pavilion, all demanding considerable time and effort aided by family of Stephenson’s fully supportive wife, Julie, one of Barbados’ top female golfers.
The exercise wasn’t cheap. Benefactors who recognised the potential value of the Franklyn Stephenson Academy chipped in. Fund-raising events were held. At last, after over a year’s work, it was open for business in 2012. Floodlights were subsequently added to allow night training.
Soon, well prepared sides for domestic age-group competitions were emerging; as the word spread, visiting university, schools and county teams came from Britain and, last May, the West Indies used it to get ready for their two home Tests against Australia.
Several Barbados cricketing legends were visitors. Brian Lara arrived one day in August to pass on some tips to the boys at the annual summer camp.
Nor has it been all cricket. A Father’s Day lunch, movie, barbeque and karaoke nights and fitness sessions have brought out parents and supporters. They give the Academy a sense of family as well as being helpful fund-raisers.
“The vision is to create a passion for the game and prepare players not only to excel in cricket but also in life and by extension help to mould individuals who will make valuable contributions to society,” the Academy proclaims on its slick website.
The trip to England fits neatly into those guidelines.