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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 16, 2024


Pastor Reuben Vessup’s invocation at the closing ceremony of the U.S. Youth Games on Sunday evening included the words "chaos and nothingness." While the prayerful description wasn’t intentional, it certainly was apt.
The mere fact that 500 young athletes and their chaperones from five U.S. cities were able to assemble in the St. Croix Educational Complex auditorium Sunday to wrap up the 34th installment of the games was a miracle in itself. Just five days earlier, local organizers had no money, no opening ceremony, no transportation, no organization – nothing but a whole bunch of nothingness.
Except, of course, 500 visitors who expected competition. So out of nothing came chaos that ultimately resulted in the games going on.
And while some 500 young athletes fidgeted in their seats Sunday waiting to receive trophies – donated at the last minute by the V.I. Tourism Department for $2,500 – adults apologized for or downplayed the "inconvenience" the disorganization caused.
"It was an exciting, adventurous, hectic six days, but whatever adjective you choose to describe the . . . experience, it was, if nothing else, interesting," said Ophelia Williams-Felix, a Housing, Parks and Recreation Department employee who was pressed into service in the 11th hour to guide the games. "If we could have gone back in time, we would have changed everything that was an inconvenience to you." While the inconveniences were many – a cancelled opening ceremony, late-starting events, soggy sandwiches, an initial lack of transportation – not all was negative.
Rocco Colabella, president of the V.I. Swimming Federation, said events Saturday at the Country Day School pool went swimmingly. The federation and the Dolphins and Marlins swim teams even held an awards picnic after the event, Colabella said.
"The kids swam very well," he said. "I think it was a positive event and we’d do it over again if we had to. It was not a problem."
The games were salvaged by last-minute donations by businesses. Hovensa paid for two Abramson Co. buses for three days while several other companies donated food and water.
Oliver Washington, a coordinator with the Columbia, S.C., team, said local organizers never gave up, despite the difficulties, even though many of the visitors thought more could have been done.
"What I found was a glass that was nearly empty," Washington said, describing the state of local organization. "But every day . . . the resilience and determination of the great people of the Virgin Islands . . . filled that glass.
"No matter what anyone says, you came through like a true champion."
The last-minute organizer of the games, Hans Lawaetz, president of the V.I. Olympic Committee, said individuals who pressed ahead with the games despite not having $400,000 in funding were "naïve." But they didn’t want to cancel after many of the teams from Columbia, Boston, Birmingham, Newark and Washington, D.C., had put deposits down for travel and accommodations.
Although the Tourism Department pledged to help teams with lodging and a deep discount on transportation from the airport, it ended up footing the $2,500 bill for awards, said Pamela Richards, assistant tourism commissioner.
"We did all that" and more, she said. "That was because we had to make this thing work. It’s for the Virgin Islands.
"Wherever we can help, we can. But the community must understand what we can do. We can’t run somebody’s event for them."

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