On the football pitch and in the school gymnasium, Lesley Cherry White has been the perfect role model for Danni Watson.
Ms Watson was the happy recipient of a BFA Legends Scholarship in Ms White’s name in 2019, meaning she won $5,000 towards her studies at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts.
It is a fitting partnership: Ms Watson, the former national girls’ under-17 captain, has long been inspired by Ms White’s achievements as one of the first Bermudian women to play football at the University level in North America.
Yet, it’s not just Ms White’s sporting success that she is planning to emulate – she also has her eyes on a long-term future as a teacher, just like her hero. Now 20, Ms Watson revealed she already had a strong bond with Ms White when she applied for the scholarship four years ago:
“There was a list of about five legends we could choose from,” she said. “I had decided on Ms White because I actually had a personal relationship with her. She was the only female there so I thought it would be pretty cool. She is just an amazing person and she loves giving back. She actually helped me further my education before the scholarship came out.”
Ms White represented the Bermuda women’s national team from 1989 to 1997 and starred for Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in PE and a masters degree in educational administration.
She helped recruit Ms Watson to Saltus Grammar School, where she works as a gym teacher and football coach. “While I was there, we got really close with her being my coach and just her being really supportive of me. Even after I left the school she was always there, being supportive. I knew I wanted to pick her!”
The BFA allocates funding annually to help young footballers develop academically through the sport at home or overseas.
Ms Watson said: “Boarding schools, especially in that area, are not cheap. I was super ecstatic to be able to give that sort of contribution to my family. It also just felt good to win, especially under Ms White. I can represent her and her legacy. She’s earned the status of being a legend and winning and being a trailblazer for the scholarship that I get to receive!”
Danni spent three fulfilling years at Berkshire: “It’s an amazing place,” she said. “They put me in the best space academically they could for college.”
She has now started at Rider University, New Jersey, where she is majoring in education.
“Over this last year I had the idea I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I want to live back home. I think the island needs more teachers. I think I can add something – I care a lot. I would love to bring that back to the island.
“I became a role model really young through football and the national team. That’s been a huge motivator to me. Seeing the impact that I’ve been able to have on young people, as a young person, it’s motivated me to think as a teacher I can create even more of an impact.
“It’s because of teachers like Ms White I am able to see that teachers who do care and make the extra effort, make that impact that I want to.”
In the meantime, her experiences playing overseas can help her raise standards with the Bermuda national team.
“A lot of the women on the national team have been away at school,” she said. “That’s good for the programme in its entirety. Rider will be my first real go at the collegiate level. I’m super excited preparing for that. I just want to do as well as I can do.”
Ms Watson is keen to pass on advice to any young people thinking about heading to school overseas.
A lot of Bermudians see the price of these schools and get deterred from it, but it really is possible. My family didn’t have the financial ability to send me to the school but we reached out and talked to the school and did our research. Go for it, don’t hesitate!