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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 17, 2024


As the trouble-plagued 2000 World Youth Games lurch toward their conclusion this weekend, the sport of finger-pointing by those trying to salvage the event is in full swing.
On Friday, Ophelia Williams-Felix, "bureau chief for sports" at the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department, said she had no connection with the games until things started to fall apart Tuesday, when the opening ceremony for 500 visiting youngsters from five mainland cities was canceled because there was no transportation for the youngsters from their hotels. "That’s when the madness started," she said.
Williams-Felix, who is also president of the V.I. Volleyball Federation, said she had told the president of V.I. Youth Games Inc., Ralph Wilson, at the beginning of the year that she would help but not as a coordinator. Later, on the advice of local event promoter Hugh Dalton and others, it was recommended to Wilson that the games be canceled because the $400,000 needed to put the event together had not been raised.
In May, after Wilson had left the territory and moved to Texas, Maureen Rabsatt-Cullar, another officer of V.I. Youth Games Inc., stepped in to keep the games going, Williams-Felix said.
"We tried to inform Mrs. Cullar we couldn’t go on with it, because we didn’t have any money," Williams-Felix said. "But Mrs. Cullar wasn’t listening."
Rabsatt-Cullar, who is on the staff of Senate President Vargrave Richards on St. Thomas, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
On Wednesday, she had blamed lack of funding from the government and the private sector for the difficulties. "Unfortunately the support we received from the community wasn’t what we hoped it would be," she said then.
Following the opening ceremony debacle, Richards stepped in to garner community contributions and arrange transportation to keep the games from stopping altogether.
In addition to Richards, Williams-Felix, V.I. Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz and a host of other volunteers pulled together the support needed to keep the event going. Young athletes from Birmingham, Ala.; Newark, N.J.; Washington, D.C.; Boston, Mass; and Columbia, S.C., are taking part. Events in basketball, volleyball, tennis, golf, track and field, swimming, bowling and in an academic quiz bowl have begun at various venues across St. Croix.
The biggest obstacle, Lawaetz said, was transportation. By Thursday, Vitran buses and others from Abramson Enterprises had been pressed into service. The Birmingham team had booked its own vans before leaving Alabama, according to team assistant track coach William Ray. As for the organizational disarray, Ray was forgiving. "After the first day, almost everything was in line," he said.
Williams-Felix, though, was anything but forgiving. She charged that Richards had known about the event a year ago, so his last-minute intervention was nothing more than an effort to save face. "He’s trying to act pure now because of the mess his executive director, Maureen Cullar, started," she said.
Other government officials were aware of the plans a year ago, too. Then-Tourism Commissioner-designate Michael Bornn announced at the time that the deparment would lend its support to the event by providing marketing and promotional assistance. In October, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull withdrew Bornn's nomination. On Friday, neither Tourism Commissioner Rafael Jackson, who was sworn into office just a week ago, nor his assistant commissioner for St. Croix, Pamela Richards, could be reached for comment.
Williams-Felix said the $2,300 needed for awards at the end of the games has yet to be found. "They don’t have awards because they don’t have any money," she said.

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