Umpire McClean trusted into the spotlight once again

On Wednesday evening, the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) crowned cyclist Nicholas Paul and track and field athlete Michelle-Lee Ahye as its Senior Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year respectively for 2021.

The ceremony which took place virtually for the second year running and the organisers 27th Annual Awards event on its 75th anniversary had as its themed - “The Glass in not Half-Empty” - was broadcast via video- conferencing platform Zoom, the TTOC’s YouTube channel, its Facebook page, and its website (

McClean’s identity was not known until she was introduced by the Master of Ceremonies Hans Des Vignes just as it has been at the last six consecutive functions, and keeping with the theme she did not disappoint her audiences locally and internationally.

Here’s her speech...

“It came as first a shock and then an honour to be asked to be the keynote speaker for the 2021 TTOC 27th Annual Awards. It was a shock because it came at two in the morning while I was in South Korea studying if I was going to get any sleep before my game later that day. It was also a shock because as an umpire you are asked not to be noticed on the field and then you were considered to have done a good job, but clearly, I had been noticed.

But I promise you it was also definitely an honour. Being asked to speak to the sporting community both here locally and the diaspora, as this is the second year of the virtual event, is just shy of gaining my Golden Whistle, in terms of accolades. But they both were a long and seemingly impossible journey.

This year’s theme “the glass is not half-empty” falls in line with a cliche we’ve probably heard but in the current state of the world continues to be relevant. Honestly for me though, we should not be focusing on if the glass is empty or full but more on the contents of the glass. Maybe for us in sport and in Trinidad and Tobago, what are the contents of our water bottles and coolers? We all know around the goal that there is a high level of pessimism, uncertainty, and a simple fear of the negativity waiting to wreak havoc on our mental state.

For athletes and the sporting world at large, there have been cancelled events, bubble formats and individuals withdrawing from tournaments mid-competition and that seems to drain you and make you feel void and out of control. But actually, in our glasses are methods that helped us to foster a new focus and a more dynamic work ethic. A work ethic that brought sports back to where it is now and it will continue to move us forward to pass where we were before.

You have trimmed and tailored your support groups to form an even tighter-knitted community for those who you can trust and lean on to remain standing firm. You’ve increased your resilience (last year’s theme) which is something that is certainly needed at this time and you’ve gained confidence, the opposite of fear that will force you to change for the better, evolve and grow.

From a child, I focussed on the content of my glass. On what should have been my first day of preschool, I turned out to be a discussion and a negotiation with my mother as to why I should attend Belmont Girls RC Primary School with my cousin who was a year older than me. At 3 years old in the schoolyard, I explained that since my cousin and I grew up in the same home, we knew the same information and thus we belonged at the same school. I refused to believe that I did not have a place there. At that age I could have cried and said it’s not fair, you don’t let me do anything; yes at 3 but I chose the content of my education and my friendship with my cousin that would allow me to stay ahead of my current year group and learn more.

Needless to say, the discussion ended with me getting placed in the First Year’s B Class at Belmont Girls RC school, a new uniform and a new set of books by the end of the week and I think at that point my mom firmly decided I was going to be an only child.

Knowing the content of your glass is imperative. As a twin-island country with less than 1.5 million people classified as a developing nation, we face many obstacles as we try to make our mark on the globe. For athletes there are always concerns about finding funding, balancing sport and education and career; you are anxious about finding facilities, high enough levels of competition locally; high enough levels of sports internationally and regionally and being able to qualify for the relevant events.

Things as simple as finding the shortest flight plan to get to your competition, to acclimatise quickly may be a heavy burden. All these things seem unnerving and formidable and can drain you. There are also the things that nourish and encourage you to discover new paths to success, you are forced to acquire new skills; how to fundraise and budget; you introduce more efficient ways to new technology and that makes you work smarter and harder, and gain time management skills. You are forced to step out of your comfort zone which will allow you to be more agile both mentally and physically. In order to change the landscape, there must be room for progress and your glass is not half-empty at this point, it is at the point where you’re leaving room for growth.

As we enter into the international arena there are times where we feel overwhelmed because no one knows who you are and they barely know where to find our country on a map. You feel undervalued and underestimated but that can actually be a superpower, with ambiguity you do not have the expectation of pressure, obviously outside of what you create yourself; but when you throw a travelling 84.58 metres and secure an Olympic gold; when you pedal your way to being the first Olympic female cyclist for your nation or when you slide on the slopes to become the first Alpine skier to represent a Caribbean island; or when you bring home gold or silver from your first Paralympics and following it up with setting of world records the very next year; one may consider that all the things may have seemed to drain you are possibly what prepared you to triumph.

In 2017, I was in South Africa at a World Cup qualifier. This qualifier appointment came to me after I had been dropped from the junior World Cup list of umpires due to logistical reasons and for me, I felt like there was, I had missed my opportunity. My first game at this tournament was a PanAm rivalry USA versus Chile, a game I was very familiar with and very prepared for. During half time I had to do a series of runs to test my radio as it kept falling out during the first half and on those runs, I stepped and pulled my calf muscle and could not put my right foot flat on the ground once again. For the second half, I was replaced by the reserve umpire and I cried in the locker room. For the next week, I spent the time in the video booth being the video umpire, after which I spent time in rehab for the next week as well, just rehabbing between video and training.

A week later I was then sent on to my second match, excited, ready, healthy. Three-quarter-way through that game a ball comes flying across the field and hits me square in the right leg. I was again in excruciating pain but at that point, I decided I was not leaving the field and honestly if I was a horse I swear they would have shot me by then. Later in the competition after continuing on to do a quarter-final, I was sitting with one of the International Federation’s official committee members looking at a semi-final match. During the match, he asked me, “do you think you are as good as the officials on the field?” I shrugged the questions off because those were my friends and I didn’t want to say anything. But then he persisted, “do you think you are as good as these officials?”

My simple answer was yes, all I need is the opportunity.

Five months after that competition, with no other competition under my belt I received an email stating I was appointed to the World Cup, the first female in the Region to be on the field and a World Cup in the sport of hockey, in the CAC and PanAm region.

What was the point? And at this point what was in my cup? Resilience, a wider network, a higher level of video umpire experience, a better understanding of being a team player, and patience, and a higher pain threshold. What did I leave room for? Awareness, opportunity and an appointment to the World Cup. As we navigate through the next year, I want you to remember the theme of tonight’s awards - the glass is not half empty.

The content of your glass is your past wins and successes, your past losses and lessons, the friendships you’ve made, the accolades you’ve received, knowledge and skills you have developed in the face of adversity. In that glass also is the room for growth and the realization that your opportunities are endless and bountiful with the right mindset. There are more competitions to conquer, new technology and skills to try and discover, a new path to traverse in life and in sport. As we forge into 2022 think about what you will make room for and everything that is left to fill your glass because there are times when you need to sip out of that glass to make sure there is room for more. Continue to be ready for what will be poured into it next.”

TTOC 2021 Awards Honour Roll

Sportsman of Year - Nicholas Paul (Cycling)

Sportswoman of the Year - Michelle-Lee Ahye (Athletics)

Junior Sportsman - Nikoli Blackman (swimmer)

Junior Sports Woman - Rae-Anne Serville (Athletics)

Future is Female award - Anisa Mohammed - (Cricket)

People’s Choice Award - Nicholas Paul - (Cycling)

Alexander B Chapman Award - Elton Prescott SC (Attorney)

TTOC Sports Personality of the Year - Tyra Gittens (Athletics)