Western Jamaica coaches divided on Champs cancellation

Observer West writer

Thursday, March 19, 2020

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Montego Bay, St James — The cancellation of the highly anticipated Inter-secondary Schools Association (ISSA) /GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Championships which was set for next week at the National Stadium has been met with mixed emotions by a number of coaches from across western Jamaica.

Like most of the country, the news of the cancellation of the five-day championships out of concern for the spread of novel coronavirus in the country was met with disappointment by many of the coaches, and while they voiced their disappointment with the decision taken by the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association along with the ministries of sport and health, the consensus was that the championships should have been postponed.

Despite their disappointment, Michael McIntosh of Green Island, Reynaldo Walcott of St Elizabeth Technical, and Roderick Myles of Rusea's High, all of whom have been on national duties, said they accepted the decision that was taken.

McIntosh, who is also the acting principal at Green Island High, told the Jamaica Observer West, “the cancellation was a big disappointment. However, based on the insufficient knowledge of COVID-19, this seems to be the best decision in relations to public health and containment of same. Better done, is always than better said.”

“I believe a postponement at first would be the logical thing, but with the ministry of education closing schools for 14 days, training and things associated with track and field would be affected negatively,” he added.

Myles agreed with McIntosh that the championships should have been pushed back in the year.

“Personally, I understand why the decision was taken, but I too was hoping for a postponement rather than a cancellation. The students have all been working real hard and have put in a lot, and also the final year students who are also relying on Champs to solidify scholarships to tertiary institutions will be the hardest hit,” he argued.

Myles, who guided Rusea's High to three straight COCAA Western Champs girls' titles, further argued that ISSA and the government with their advisors “knew what was best and they had more information on the entire issue than we did, so I have to respect the decision.

“A makeshift champs at some point down the road, even without spectators would have sufficed for the senior athletes, but seeing what is going on now we have a better understanding, the experts know more about it than we do, so we have to respect the decisions that were made,” said Myles.

“It seems to me though that most of the coaches and students seem to have a better understanding now than when the decision was first made last week.”

For his part, Walcott expressed disappointment at the cancelling of the championships, arguing that the athletes have worked very hard.

“I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment, but the disappointment is not directed at anyone or any organisation, but it is just at the situation, and what it is. The kids have worked really hard and the schools have invested a lot, but that is nothing compared to general public safety. I don't think champs or athletics is above the norms of society and the norms are that people are not supposed to be gathering, and we don't want a situation where we end up saying 'if we did know,” he argued.

Added the STETHS coach who has been head coach to the CARIFTA Games: “All of our sporting interests have to give way to national security and the government, and if we look at what international sporting bodies have done before and subsequent to what ISSA did, it seems ISSA did the right thing, if no one is at school who will be training?.”

“My western champs team had over 100 athletes and that already is well above the allowable numbers that are allowed to be gathered, there is nothing much we can do but hope for the best and try to pick up as soon as possible when this passes.”

Rudi Robinson, a former vice-president of COCAA, described the cancellation as “a necessary evil.”

“ISSA was ahead of the game when they declared the championship cancelled, as we are dealing with an unknown virus whose effects are still not fully understood. Those athletes that needed to use Champs as a benchmark for potential scholarships etcetera are particularly hard hit, and I'm not sure if a meet can be held to accommodate them as we have no idea when normality will return,” Robinson expressed.

Westwood High's coach St Derrick Pryce, was not as understanding, arguing that given that ISSA president Keith Wellington had said the athletes could look forward to participating at the JAAA National Junior Championships in June, they could have postponed Champs until June, as well.

“Since they said the athletes can prepare for trials, maybe they have information that the virus would have been gone by then, so they should have postponed Champs. That makes more sense to me than to just cancel it like that,” he stressed.

According to Miguel Clarke of Albert Town High, the cancellation of champs is naturally disappointing to both athletes and coaches.

“However, when one considers the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, setting a tentative date for postponement would be virtually impossible. The mere fact that school and by extension training is suspended makes it difficult to ascertain optimal performances since we can't speak definitively to a resumption date,” he expressed.

Rhodes Hall High's Rhoando Parchment said while he agrees with the initial decision to move the event from its original dates of March 24-28 because not much was known about the virus, they should have opted for date further in the year, rather than a cancellation.

“Students, coaches and schools would have made a lot of sacrifice thus far. The coaches would have spent several hours writing training programmes, travelling for almost 10 weekends to and from track meets, and some schools would have spent over half-a- million dollars on transportation and nutrition already, so I would be more keen on the fact that yes the COVID-19 is a real treat, but it is one that as soon as we beat it we can get on to our normal lives,” he argued.

“I have students who are really disappointed that they will not be competing after all the hard work, and I also know athletes from other schools who were looking forward to competing because it's their last year and wanted the opportunity to use the opportunity through which they can be offered a scholarship to attend a university locally or overseas,” he added.

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