Time for schoolboy football
In the developed football world, professional clubs bear the responsibility of nurturing young, talented players.
But as was made clear in this space a week ago, Jamaican football clubs are a long way behind the developed world, both in terms of professionalism and the availability of resources.
In such circumstances, it's our high schools that have, for more than a century, taken on the task of nurturing and honing our teenage talent.
Just as it has done in other sports, the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), through its daCosta Cup competition for rural schools and Manning Cup for urban schools as well as related competitions, provides avenues for the development of young talent.
The ISSA competitions have been the breeding ground for Jamaica's top footballers for longer than any of us can remember, and most of those who took the field last night in Jamaica's World Cup qualifier against the United States are products of those competitions.
This is in much the same way, of course, that our track athletics, cricket, netball, and basketball stars, et al emerged from the school system.
We pay homage to ISSA and its small, hard-working staff even as we look forward once again to a new schoolboy football season which opens today at the Montego Bay Sports Complex at Catherine Hall, St James.
As we understand it, more than 120 schools will participate in the two competitions. That's a far cry from 40 years ago, for example, when participating schools could be easily counted on the fingers.
As ever, the sponsors have come forward to support an endeavour that is not only laudable in terms of its contribution to the development of football and Jamaican youth, but is immensely popular.
This year, $40 million in sponsorship support will be going to the schoolboy competitions from title sponsors Digicel and Gatorade, as well as associate sponsor Restaurants of Jamaica.
Intriguingly, we are told that the RJR Group, which has taken over the broadcast rights from rivals CVM TV, is paying $3 million for those rights — more proof of the increasing commercial value of sports.
At bottom line, of course, the schoolboy competitions are exactly that — competitions involving schools. It will be important that ISSA, individual schools, parents, and all other responsible stakeholders, including the police, ensure that unruly elements who have sullied the name of schoolboy sport in the past are kept at bay.
We wish them well.