April 15, 2003 – When organizers of the traditional games say "It's Carnival, baby," they do mean baby.
Take 9-month old Calvert Charleswell Jr., a true Columbus of his day, going west to find east. When the first, youngest heat of the Toddlers Derby got under way on Monday evening at Lionel Roberts Stadium on St. Thomas, his mom, Shamar, beckoned to him from across the red carpet he had to traverse to get to the finish line. But little Calvert had other ideas and took off in his own direction.
Over in the next lane, the parents of Denroy Simon Jr. had come prepared. They pounded a giant squeaky toy on the carpet, inspiring their 1-year-old to come and get it. "We bought it today to get him to run," his Aunt Jenelle Raymo said. He did, becoming the winner of this year's crawler's race for infants.
The traditional games aspect of V.I. Carnival has been around for five years, organizer Lesmore Howard said, and every year, more and more families join the old-fashioned fun that features games played half a century ago when modern Carnival itself was in its infancy.
"This is clean fun. These are some of the games we used to play when we were young," he said before being called away to help tie children's limbs together for the three-legged race.
Talk about the daily double: In the first heat 7-year-old twins Khalia and Khadia Baptiste crossed the finish line first. Khadia also edged out her sister as the twins took first and second spots in the final heat of the Toddlers Derby.
A busy Zaneta Francis hustled a smaller cousin into place for a derby heat. On Sunday night, Zaneta had stood resplendent on the stadium stage as a contestant in the Prince and Princess pageant. After a brief celebration when 2-year-old J'nai Francis did, indeed, win, Zaneta raced down the stage ramp to fetch another cousin.
Among the parents watching their children have fun was Lorraine Morton, Carnival Committee publicist, nibbling on a fried chicken wing as part of her al fresco dinner. Although this time of year brings long days of work for her, Morton said, she likes the traditional games night because it's one time of the year when she lets her children run free.
Over by a marble game, emcee Irvin "Brownie" Brown shooed back a crowd of 10- to 12-year-olds, telling them to pay attention while he explained the finer points of the game. Having been properly instructed, the boys took turns pitching their marbles across a line in the dirt to see who would go first. Over at the side of the game, Edwin "Shiby" Testamark recalled growing up as a marbles fan.
"I grew up knowing it," he said. "If you knock a marble out of the ring, you keep what you knock out. But if your marble stays in the ring, you lose all the marbles."
Having moved to Atlanta as a child, Testamark said, he can still remember getting in a game of marbles and keeping up the play for hours, "until your mother called you inside."
Some of Monday's nights marble players seemed to have developed their own appreciation of the game, pursuing it seriously in a patch of dirt near the stadium stage long after organizers got a group of youngsters up for the sack races.
The traditional games event was originally scheduled for Sunday but was moved to Monday when the Prince and Princess Selection Show was rescheduled to Sunday from the previous weekend because of rain. With a 6 p.m. start for the Dressed as a Doll contest and the Toddlers Derby starting around 7, games for the older children were still in progress around 10 p.m. with lots of enthusiasts awaiting their turn at the starting line.
After turning off the music and reminding the crowd that Tuesday was a school day, Howard had to implore some last-minute fun lovers to stop running around the field rolling hooples and bring them back to the collection point.
And as organizers packed away equipment until next year, a group of young stalwarts watched over in a quiet corner as a lone boy give one last jerk to the string on a spinning top.
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