By Noelle Smith
Laurie Adonis is a top notch rugby coach, one of the bets in the country.
But had it not been for the influence of his brother, Noel, Adonis’s talents might have been lost to rugby.
You see Laurie Adonis started out like so many youths, playing football, or soccer as it is otherwise known.
Then his brother Noel, a former national rugby player himself, past president of the Guyana Rugby Football Union (GRFU) and a former Vice President of the Guyana Olympic Association (GOA), stepped in.
“I started playing rugby because my older brother and his teammates used to ask me to come out to make up numbers for their teams at weekends.
“I was playing football at the time so some afternoons I would be running from playing one sport at one ground to get to the other sport at the other ground because I would want to not miss any of them.”
This is how Laurie Adonis moved from being a footballer, to a part-time rugby player and eventually a full-fledged rugby coach.
He had been a rugby player at the local as well as the national level, representing Guyana for 12 years at tournaments in places like Trinidad.
before eventually choosing to be a coach for the youths of Guyana in an effort to develop the sport of rugby in the 1990s.
“I started playing rugby really late, played for 12 years, retiring at the ripe, tender age of 47,” he said laughing.
Laurence Adonis, former coach of the University of Guyana rugby team, the UG Wolves, and now coach of The Panthers, commenced his coaching career when he decided his playing days were over.
The vision himself and his former teammate and captain of the national team at the time had was to give the youths something constructive to occupy their time.
“In ‘97 when I stopped playing rugby, the national captain at the time, Conrad Arjune and I decided to get the youths who would hang out at his shop involved in rugby so we got them involved.
“Every August vacation the GOA (Guyana Olympic Association) would have this camp for the youths to participate in sports of all disciplines. We would have a ball, some of the boys from the GOA camps would join us so eventually we had over 60 boys with us.”
The chance to take the youths to a point beyond where they just knew how to play the sport to become actual players came when the world governing body for rugby at the time (the International Rugby Board-iRB) reached out to the Guyana Rugby Football Union (GRFU).
“The GRFU got a call from the iRB saying if they had a youth programme they would aid in funding it so we capitalized on that and pulled together a group. Some of the guys who came through that initial group include national players such as Kevin McKenzie, Ryan George and Leon Greaves.”
Adonis and his fellow coaches trained the youths for about three years before they participated in a game outside of Guyana.
“Our first game was in Trinidad about three years after we started and we did pretty well. We didn’t win but the performance was a good one. The next year, when the team played at the Under 18 level, our dominance showed. Then eventually, when they came of age and began to make the senior teams that was really when we started to be the Caribbean champions because these players were well geared,” he said.
“Trinidad was the team beating us for about 20-something years but when our Under 18 team went out there we beat them and we have remained one of the leading teams in the Caribbean since.”
Currently, there are still a few players who play for the national teams that passed through Adonis and his colleagues from that junior level. “From the Under 18 level, we had a selector interested in one of the boys for the West Indies Rugby Team. At the time, the West Indies Rugby Team was trying to make a name for itself,” he said.
Adonis juggled coaching the junior teams, the senior teams, his club at the time (The Pepsi Hornets) and the women’s team. The Panthers is currently the team which has his full attention. Just before The Panthers, Adonis helped form and was head coach of the UG Wolves, the team that represented the University of Guyana. The Wolves consisted of university students who were interested in learning the sport.
“Some of the guys approached me saying they were interested in starting a club at the university so I went through the processes in order to form the club. We started practicing about five or six years ago and we became a force to reckon with among the senior clubs.
The players learnt the game from the very start, learning how to play ‘touch’ rugby’ to learning the specific rules to eventually having some of the young men make the teams to represent Guyana at regional and international tournaments,” he recounted.
Though the years of existence for the Wolves were long, they had a fairly successful run. The players however, did not disband or stop playing, they are now called The Panthers but are no longer associated with the university.
“I stopped coaching the university team due to some administrative issues between myself and the administrative staff at the university. It so happened that when I told them I was leaving the guys decided they would be left behind so they shut down the Wolves and we formed The Panthers. The guys who played for the Wolves are now wearing purple and black playing for Panthers,” Adonis said.
The representative UG Wolves and The Panthers teams have not been short of victories nor have the players been unable to make the national teams to represent Guyana internationally.
“The team is underestimated. I think because these are guys who are now starting the sport compared to those who have experience upward of 10 and 15 years in the game, nobody really takes us seriously. When they come on the field against us is when they realize that this team is not a jokey team. I don’t like to celebrate a win that is not won outright and I do not like losing at all. I would rather we win by a lot of points than it be a close win because that means that the other teams were able to break through the defence to get those points.”
Coming off of back-to-back title hauls for the GRFU Sevens and the Trophy Stall Sevens, The Panthers were defeated by the Pepsi Hornets in their first round match up in the ongoing Bounty Farm XV’s Tournament. At the end of the ongoing 15s tournament, Adonis hopes to make it a hat-trick and get a third title in a row.
“Everybody likes to win. As long as I could push the guys to their best I will do that. The more we show that dominance on the field and keep the wins coming, the more our players will have to be considered for selection for national teams and that is the aim,” Adonis said.
“I try to be as knowledgeable as possible of how I train the young guys. I do not read all those books from the foreigners about how to coach six-footers weighing 200 up pounds because the players on this end do not have that physical make up, but I observe, compare game plays and strategies then try to use that as best as I could,” he declared.
For many of his players, Adonis is seen as more than a coach. He is a father-figure to players from The Panthers team.
When asked about the relationship he has with his team members he said: “We are a family and you could see it. We argue with one another and then in the next minute we are good again laughing and talking like nothing. They do things that upset me and I would have to tell them about. It’s an open environment with us and some of them guys talk to me about things they want advice about,” he said.
He may have children of his own but that doesn’t stop Adonis from being treated like a father by other young people. “Father’s Day this year, one of the guys posted something on Facebook and mentioned me like I was his father. It was really nice and I felt really appreciated. A little bit more I would have shed a tear,” he said.