Soccer and the Hazel Scott of Panama

This is Dolores Leacock, the jazz pianist who became known as the Hazel Scott of Panama. Photo thanks to her daughter Yvette Padgett.

Classic photo of the talented Hazel Scott. Photo became the cover image for Karen Chilton’s book about her life.


After my failed attempt at continuing our organized basketball team I began gravitating to the field just on the other side of the schoolyard after class. It was the part of the field with a high cement wall all around its perimeter. There I thought I would find new friends who had the same interests I did- namely new games to get into.

From my corner I started following a kid who was kicking around a soccer ball.  He stood out since he seemed perfectly content to be playing all by himself.  Futbol, as it is called in Panama, was a game totally unknown to me except for one evening that I had watched a game in session. It was over in the same Santana district in a board building which happened to overlook a soccer field.

The field which at the time was lighted up since it was toward nighttime, appeared to be well kept. I was intrigued by the passion of the players and had forgotten why I was there. I had, in fact, accompanied my Aunt Bernice who was visiting her dear friend, the famous pianist Dolores Leacock. Although we had visited Miss Leacock’s home before, I hadn’t observed the happenings in the ball field across from the board building where she lived. But, that night I got a good view and noticed that the players were much older than me.

Anyway, I would never visit Miss Leacock’s home again but would often hear my aunts speak fondly about that brilliant, young pianist who had acquired a reputation for playing jazz piano as well as Hazel Scott of the United States who was also someone unknown to me.

Back at the Institute playing field, however, I joined the lone soccer player attempting to learn the rudiments of the game of soccer since becoming an athletic enthusiast. I could feel my muscles beginning to strengthen as well as my stamina, withstanding long hours of running and cutting left and right like an African gazelle.

With improved endurance I decided last minute to enter the one hundred yard dash the physical education professors were suddenly organizing on the same field. I noticed, however, that very few of the boys signed up for any of the athletic activities of the day. Presuming that my contenders would be amongst the few field rats who, like me, hung around the field day after day to see what I could get into, I thought I had a good chance to make a place for myself.

The day of the race I showed up wearing, of all things, my Zone Silver Commissary “Keds,” which Westindians used to call “pumps.” They were simply the black canvas shoes with a rubber sole that made up the official school gym outfit.  I warmed up thinking that I’d be ready for anyone as inexperienced and as puny as myself.

It turns out after showing up at an early hour and while warming up for the race I saw a small crew of four Westindian guys show up.  They simply walked on to the field with this confident swagger dressed in professional looking athletic attire like a uniformed team.

Soon we were told that these “mystery men” were there to compete for Artes y Oficio Secondary School, which happened to be the rival public school to our National Institute. “Everyone on the list for the hundred yard dash report here!” announced the starting line teacher.  Two of our four bigger and heftier looking competitors began taking off their warm up jerseys and stepped up together to the starting blocks.

This story continues.

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