Sporting stars exhibit shines at National Museum

For an island of roughly 55,000 people, Cayman has produced its fair share of world-class sportsmen and women, with the islands represented at the very highest level of sporting competition, including the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games.   

A new exhibition at the Cayman Islands National Museum features a display that charts the historical rise of sports in Caymanian society during the 20th and 21st centuries and introduces some of Cayman’s most talented current day sporting stars. 

A collective achievement brought together by the Cayman Islands National Museum, the government’s Department of Sports and the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee, “Sporting Stars” is a multi-sensory experience that took many months of hard work to complete. 

Maia Muttoo, the National Museum’s program specialist/editor, gives some background on the new exhibition: “Debra Barnes-Tabora, the collections manager at the National Museum, originally had the idea to showcase Cayman’s sporting heroes as she had been collecting sports artifacts since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.” 

That same year, local artist Wray Banker, who was responsible for coordinating the exhibition, began contacting Cayman’s Olympic sports stars, realizing that collecting artifacts and memorabilia would be an important step in recognizing and showcasing Cayman’s sports stars for future generations to enjoy and to appreciate their endeavors. 

Top sports stars on show  

As you walk into the exhibition, you are immediately greeted by five of Cayman’s top sports stars whose biographies and life-size photos adorn the wall. 

“We had a difficult time deciding just on five of our top sporting stars, but eventually we came to agreement that these five were the most worthy,” Muttoo explains. 

Cydonie Mothersill is one of the athletes highlighted. 

“She was the first Caymanian to win gold in athletics in the 200m sprint at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, our highest international sporting achievement so far,” Banker explains. 

Considered the foremost female in Caymanian track and field, Mothersill has competed in five Olympic Games, the most of any Caymanian athlete. She was also the first Caymanian to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and to make an Olympic final. She was inducted into the Clemson University Athletic Hall of Fame, among the highest ranking schools for athletics in the United States. 

Heather Roffey is also featured. She is Cayman’s first female Olympic swimmer, qualifying in the 200m butterfly and 800m freestyle. Roffey holds the Cayman national records for the 100/200m butterfly, 200/400m individual medley and 800m freestyle. She is a multiple CARIFTA and Islands Games medalist and has been awarded the Cayman Islands Junior Female Sportsperson of the Year Award twice (2000, 2003). 

Also excelling at swimming, brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser are among the top five sporting stars. Shaune Fraser began his swim training locally at a young age at Fitness Connection under Laura Ribbins. He is a three-time Olympian and holds numerous decorations and records. He trains at the University of Florida. Like his older brother, Brett Fraser also began training under Ribbins at a young age. After taking some time off from swimming in his late teens, Brett got back in the pool at the University of Florida, where he trained alongside Shaune. He is a two-time Olympian and holds numerous decorations and records; he now trains and resides in New York. 

Kareem Streete-Thompson became the best under-17 long jumper in the Caribbean, winning gold at the CARIFTA games. In 2002 he became the first athlete from the Cayman Islands to medal at the Commonwealth Games where he won bronze in the long jump. He is the only other recorded person in the world besides Carl Lewis to run a sub-10-second 100m and long jump over 28 feet, according to the exhibition. Streete-Thompson has returned to the University of Texas, where he is an assistant coach for the Longhorn Athletics program. 

At one end of the exhibition, videos of these and many more of Cayman’s top sporting stars run on a continuous loop so visitors can enjoy watching some of Cayman’s greatest sporting moments. 

History in the making  

Following the exhibition around, visitors can experience the historical development of sports through the decades with some well-known government members and business leaders who excelled in their youth. 

In particular, a love of cricket, football and netball was developed under Timothy “Teacher” McField. Though cricket had been occasionally played in the pre-war years under educator Charles Goring, it was not until community sports activists McField and Vernon Jackson became involved that cricket’s popularity grew, the exhibit advises. Encouraging a variety of sports in schools, McField came to Cayman at age 12 in 1939, and has been credited by many as being the hub of mid-20th century sporting in Cayman. McField was instrumental in introducing sports in public schools and inter-school competitions, Banker says. 

Vernon Jackson was a Bodden Town native who trained as a teacher in Jamaica, bringing his sporting knowledge home to help develop the industry in Cayman. Both men were instrumental in developing football and cricket.  

Inter-district football games helped to unite districts, especially George Town and West Bay, which had a long-standing rivalry. McField invited two Jamaican teams to play netball in Cayman in the 1950s, starting a love of the sport that would grow in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Another fascinating exhibition is the information detailing Cayman Brac’s “Barefoot Brigade” under the tutorship of Jerry Harper.  

Sports in Cayman continued to develop under the leadership of notable personalities, the exhibition says. Harper (known as “Coach”) began working as a geography teacher at Cayman Brac’s Middle School in 1975. He noticed the school’s lack of a proper physical education program and offered to teach it as well. With industriousness and determination, clearing fields of rocks by hand and making their own equipment, Harper coached the so-called “Barefoot Brigade” of road runners from the Brac to victory in several Grand Cayman road races, and even took them to compete in Florida.  

Cayman’s Speaker of the House, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, was a member of the Barefoot Brigade. 

A fascinating exhibit highlighting the ingenuity of Caymanians in years gone by features a homemade cricket bat fashioned out of wood and a cricket ball made of socks. These exhibits were made by Banker’s father Billy Banker and are proudly on display. 

A record to be proud of  

Interspersed among the information and exhibits are memorabilia from some of Cayman’s greatest achievements. An entire display box is given to memorabilia from Mothersill’s achievements at the Commonwealth Games, including her gold medal, which sits proudly on display (under lock and key). Olympian Craig Merren has donated his bike to the exhibition, while a metal “rose petal” from the 2012 London Olympics, in which several Caymanians participated, is another important exhibit. 

Adjacent to the main exhibition room the curators have erected a netball/volleyball/badminton court so everyone can try their hand at a little sporting activity before they leave. 

Job well done  

Merta Day, sports coordinator for women with the government’s Department of Sports, says she applauds the museum, especially Wray Banker and his team for their efforts in putting together such an impressive display.  

“I am extremely happy that I was able to assist a few years back when I was first approached by Deborah Barnes-Tabora, as guest curator,” she says. “These pioneers, through their impressive accomplishments have put our country on the map and most importantly, helped inspire and pave the way for others to achieve excellence through sports.”  

Day says it is extremely important that documentation and display of Cayman’s achievements in sports continues, as it is a part of Cayman’s history and does much to showcase the diverse ways the people have contributed to the country’s development. 

“Capturing these moments in history and displaying them so vividly in a single collection, should fill us all with a feeling of pride and accomplishment,” she says.  

“In years to come, our people and visitors alike will be informed of how sports first came about and the strides it made to date, and how our culture adapted to embrace sports rather than how it was first viewed years back.” 

Jennifer Powell of the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee says they are excited to have made a start in the compilation of sporting history, and that part of the display will reside permanently in the CIOC office once the exhibition closes.  

The “Sporting Stars” exhibition will run until October when it will then be moved to the Olympic Committee office for the public, becoming a permanent display of Caymanian Olympism and the history of sport. 

“This is just the beginning, and a very small part of our history, as we are currently seeking sponsorship in producing a complete historical collection that will be maintained as the Cayman Islands continues to compete on multiple levels. We encourage anyone interested to contact us should they wish to be involved,” Powell says. 


Craig Merren’s Olympic bike