Basseterre, St. Kitts (January 11, 2016) — Major League Soccer (MLC) professional player, Atiba Harris, bowed to his parents’ cajoling that he celebrate his 31st birthday at home, and the man who is known for promoting sports in the St. Peter’s community came with a bag of goodies to surprise the St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club who in 2015 were crowned the SKNABA ‘A’ Division champions on their first appearance at the finals.
But what happened on Saturday January 9 (Atiba’s birthday) at the St. Peter’s stadium left him wondering who was surprising who. The entire St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club was out in full force, and humbled him when they announced that the club would in the 2016 SKNABA season be renamed the Atiba Harris St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club.
Not to be outdone were his parents, Egbert ‘Baza’ Harris and Sonia Williams, who along with Atiba’s sister Gillian Martin, and his wife Rachael had made elaborate arrangements for a surprise birthday party for him at the stadium’s pavilion where waiting to serenade him was renowned Kittitian musician, Kirvin ‘Infamus’ Benjamin.
“The event was supposed to be a basic handover of jerseys by Atiba Harris to the club,” observed Valentine France, St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club coach and PRO. “But his parents contacted us knowing that he had some jerseys for us and told us if we can put off until his birthday.
“That was on Saturday and the main reason of that is because he had come to see us the Runnerz team not knowing that he had a surprise party awaiting him at the stadium. So his position coming up there was to come to hand over the jerseys to Runnerz Basketball Club. In addition the parents and his wife Rachael hosted a surprise at that same venue. The handing over procedure he knew he was coming to meet us there for that time, but he did not know about the party.”
When he arrived at the stadium, he was introduced to members of the St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club who had proudly displayed the championship trophy they won in the 2015 SKNABA season. He was then escorted to the stadium’s players’ room whose door was closed, and upon knocking on the door they were greeted with word: “Surprise!”
“Atiba you made history by becoming the first MLC football player from St. Kitts and we are very proud to call you our own,” said Valentine France to Atiba Harris, among loud cheers from those present. “We as a community we got together to bring this event, especially your family – you have a lovely family.”
Atiba Harris, who played for St. Peter’s Football Club as a youngster and captained them to the SKNFA Premier League finals and became the first player from St. Kitts to sign with a European club in Spain in 2004-05, became the first St. Kitts player to sign with Major League Soccer. He now plays for FC Dallas in the Major League Soccer.
At his unexpected birthday bash he was presented with a plaque by founder and captain of the Runnerz club Maxwell Bass, a picture of the St. Peter’s Runnerz players and its fans by Valentine France, a jersey of the St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club, and a certificate for him and his family to use on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway by senior player Rory France.
Tributes to Atiba Harris were made by his sister Gillian Martin, mother Sonia Williams, father Egbert ‘Baza’ Harris, Manager St. Peter’s Premier Football team Delroy Carey, and Vice President of St. Peter’s Football team Roy Rogers.
But the biggest announcement was left for the last. “This year, the basketball team will be named Atiba Harris St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club,” said Valentine France.
“You catch me again!” said an overcome Atiba Harris. “Thanks a lot again for coming out and supporting me. I really appreciate all this from St. Peter’s Runnerz, St. Peter’s Football team, my family and friends.”
He advised the young players that whatever one wants to be, they can be taking into consideration that a little boy from Monkey Hill could have made it as a professional player with the Major League Soccer.
“Just go after your dream, you know, chase it do not let nobody stop you,” said Atiba Harris. “Anything is possible with God. Anything is possible with hard work…. just go out there, be focused: Education is the key to success but education alone is not everything, learn from the elders, respect the elders, and learn from them because they have been through the struggle.
“I heard about the good things you are doing in the community, in basketball and I really wanted to come on board and do something positive because this community is always a close-knit community. I would like to turn over these jerseys to St. Peter’s Runnerz and, I am not saying hopefully, I am expecting you guys to win the championship in the premier division. Just big up yourselves and we will celebrate.”
The sleeveless jerseys are in blue, the official colour of the St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club, but he drew added attention when he said that should that colour clash with the colour of an opposing team, the jerseys could be reversed and would take the colour white. It was a two-in-one jersey gift to St. Peter’s Runnerz from their new mentor, Atiba Harris.
“We love that challenge and definitely we are up to the task,” said Valentine France after the challenge by Atiba Harris. “We are not staying up in the Premier Division, but we are all about taking the championship in the Premier Division as well.”
He added that the decision to rename the club Atiba Harris St. Peter’s Runnerz Basketball Club was arrived at by the committee in recognition of the Kittitian MLC player after he would have indicated that he would come on board to help steer the club to greater heights.