PHILIPSBURG--2021 was a tough year for sports on the island of St. Maarten. No one person stood above the crowd. No one athlete, coach or manager was tested and found to be truly outstanding.
Most struggled in the face of a public health crisis. Most did their best and tried to work through a second year of uncertainty.
This year The Daily Herald’s Sports Person of the Year is not a single person but a group of people all working together, supporting each other, and moving toward achieving their dream.
This year The Daily Herald has selected The King Family as the Sports Family of the Year. The family consists of two parents: mom, Kethline and dad, Villeneuve and three sons, all aspiring to be baseball players.
The oldest son is Junior King (28). He is away at college in New York and signed a pro contract to play professional ball in 2022. Junior is listed as 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. He is a centerfielder who bats and throws from the right. His 60-yard dash was clocked at 6.5 seconds. He bench presses 135 pounds and leg presses 560 pounds.
The middle boy, Mawoli Julius (19), has finished high school and hopes to start college. His plans have already been delayed a year. But he has used the year to train harder in hopes of reaching an even higher level of fitness and skills.
Born in 2002, Julius just returned from training in the Dominican Republic at the Top Ten Baseball Academy. He now dreams of going up to Florida to attend some showcases, being noticed by a scout and eventually being offered a college scholarship in the fall.
The youngest King, Julian, age 15, has similar aspirations. This is no surprise since he started baseball training at the age of four, just tagging along behind his brothers.
“This guy is the next big star that will come out of SXM; remember his name.” Those were the words of Rafael Skeete, a pro scout dedicated to helping athletes get to college and beyond. The St. Maartener who played pro ball himself has relocated to the States, but he just scouted players on St. Maarten less than 30 days ago. The athlete he is talking about is King – Julian King.
2021 has not been easy for the family – jobs were put on pause. Income was scarce. But it was worse in 2017. During the middle of Hurricane Irma, as the eye passed over their home, Mr. King realized his house was not going to last the storm. He made the tough call: let's run for it.
They saw a concrete tool shed nearby. They spent the next few hours hearing the storm blow and rip things apart, including their home. When the wind subsided, the family peeked outside. All that was left of their home was the toilet.
The littlest boy was concerned: where was he going to go to the bathroom without walls? The middle boy also very upset. His PlayStation was gone. Would he ever be able to retrieve all his high game scores? And Junior, the oldest, feared his chance to go to college was gone.
Mr. and Mrs. King were just as worried. Where were they going to live? The family struggled. They eventually found a new place and began rebuilding their lives. They faced each challenge and just continued to move forward.
It wasn't long before the boys returned to the Little League Baseball field – not to throw and catch, but to help. They were among the first to volunteer to unload truckloads of supplies that arrived on the Friendly Island to help repair lives. The boys spent days opening 40-foot containers, helping unpack them, sorting supplies out on the field and then helping get the items that were needed. They were there passing out water bottles and even helping fill containers from the military water trucks.
It is this spirit of moving forward that St. Maarten athletes need to embrace in order to succeed. It is this spirit of not giving up when you are down that makes an athlete the best they can be.
The Kings, like all of us, do not know what lies ahead. The older King is looking forward to playing with the independent league Vermont Mallards for the 2022 season. They are scheduled to play 130 games starting in April and running through October.
“My season starts next year and I want to make a big impact, God willing,” said Junior. “My coach made a lot of connections with MLB scouts to look out for me.” He continued, “I want to have a good start to my season.”
Talk about following in the footsteps of the older brother: Julius attended Top 10 Baseball Academy, as did his older brother. He was assigned the same room and even the same bed that his brother had used just a few years earlier. Not surprisingly, the staff knew the name King. What surprised Julius most was going to the market around the corner from the academy. The shop keeper said hello and in short order found out the athlete was from St. Maarten. Imagine the young boy’s surprise when the shop keeper asked did he know King!
“I started playing baseball with the Little League at the age of eight,” said Julius. “I started off as a catcher; now I'm a first base/third baseman.”
He continued, “I have two brothers who also play baseball. My younger brother started to play ball at the age of four years old, when I started. We grew up training and playing together on the same team. We also played against each other a few times.”
Julius and Julian both just participated in the December scouting showcase on St. Maarten. “Little” King, as he was called on the Little League field for years, is now 5-foot-10 and 162 pounds. He is looking to go to the States for his senior year of high school where he hopes to be seen by many scouts.
Julius wants to go back to the Dominican Republic, spend a few more weeks sharpening his skills and then head up to Florida for the College Scout Showcases in hopes of being recruited.
Despite the rising of COVID numbers in Europe, the United States and even on St. Maarten, the King family embodies the dreams of athletes that want to excel. They want to go places. They want to go for the gold. No matter what kind of curve ball is thrown to them, the Kings, The Daily Herald’s Sports Family of the Year, dream of hitting it out of the ballpark.