Not just 9 points at Champs…


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

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Well , we have come to the end of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championship, and we saw a comprehensive win by Kingston College over arch-rivals and defending champions Calabar.

It was a nail-biting finish on the girls' side between defending champions Edwin Allen, who narrowly defeated Hydel. It was entertainment at its best, with the traditional schools having to pay keen attention to their non-traditional emerging rivals. Rural Jamaica did very well, and they seem to improve every year. They provided real challenges to the exclusivity once held by the traditional schools.

School colours were evident and even a few “waggonists” who secretly made a quick change when the outcome of the Boys' championship became a reality early on the penultimate and final days of competition. It reminded me of the heavyweight title fight held at the very same National Stadium. Promoter Don King escorted “Smoking Joe” Frazier to the ring, but left with George Foreman after the dramatic knockout. When questioned by the press, the veteran and controversial King said, “I came with the champ and I left with the champ.”

The controversy at Calabar prior to the Championships certainly gave rise to a lively debate, concerning school boys, school administration, respect for teachers, parental involvement, the raison d'etre for education, and the influence of past students and “win-at-all-cost” coaches. Let me hasten to say that the situation does not call for reflection on Calabar alone and they should only be noted as the visible tip of an iceberg. There is enough substance below to sink the Titanic, meaning a large part of our education focus.

It is curious as well as unfortunate as to how some of the traditional boys' schools have decided to bend the traditions that made them famous and respected, in the pursuit of sporting prowess only. Gone is the veneration of Jamaica scholars, Rhodes scholars, leaders in every possible profession, and they are replaced by the glory of sporting activities that do not produce the commensurate success to sustain their alumni for life.

The dedicated champion Dr Lascelve “Muggy” Graham, over many decades, continues to be relevant with regard to recruitment “buying” of athletes, and whether or not the practice in any way enhances the academic prowess of those students. So let us avoid the senseless defence of a practice that produces only one star per 1,000; and one superstar per 10,000; and destroys the opportunity for extra-curricular physical engagement in schools for the general population.

The burning desire for victory at all costs must be recognised in many ways as a flame that consumes instead of protecting the young minds with whose nurture we have all been entrusted. Parents, teachers, alumni, communities, must recognise their roles as part of a broad introduction to lifelong skills, not just nine points at Champs.

Parents, teachers and administration, and communities each have reasonably understood roles, however there is need for a “refresher” programme for each group (perhaps conjointly) to identify the potential outcomes for these students in the future. This can be accomplished with a more creative use of current training funds directed towards these goals.

The difficult and more disruptive group is the alumni. Fuelled by bragging rights and deluded by school colours, they do, in some cases, command and control sums of money that corrupt the processes of education. It makes students willing or exploited participants in a perceived struggle that has little benefit to the education function. Children and parents fall prey to the enticement of a “free lunch” and an all-expense tour going nowhere.

This is not intended to discredit the genuine interest of some alumni who give back to their schools in a generally productive way. These are directed to the win-at-all-cost past students who, during their time in school, did not participate in any sporting activities, but now wish to pretend that their school is so important to them.

These are a mix of professionals who were bookworms who would not participate, or the ones who left during break time and immediately after school to inhale smoke from various plants in the safety of the many nearby drainage systems. These groups are now attempting to live their lives vicariously, without caring which minors get hurt. This should not be the only focus of those who wore the honourable green and black; maroon and gold; purple and white; dark blue and white; and the many other colours that stood for integrity, achievement, leadership, and loyalty.

Those of us who played sports and achieved some success in life from our education in these schools should unite against the exploitation of our children.

It is perhaps reasonable to give thanks that Usain Bolt did not attend one of these schools. Can you imagine a tight contest at Champs with one race to decide the outcome of the event, Usain suffering from an injured quad earlier in the meet, and you ask yourself “would our coach run him in the relay and risk serious potential incapacity?” If he did, and you won, would you praise the coach? If he didn't, and you lost, would you vilify the coach?

Let us be honest, schools do not run in the Olympics or the World Championships, but Jamaica does. This is the stage for the professional athletes and not schoolboys and girls. This is their world stage. Champs, a stage for development, run to please a group of has-beens, or worse, never-were. A few days after Champs these young athletes contested for inclusion in a Jamaican team, and will run together against the world. They will make Jamaica proud.

The verdict is yours, but think carefully and rationally before you answer. Our children are not animals for racing and placing bets on. There is a track for that. It is called Caymanas.

— This article is republished from the current edition of Public Opinion, the online discussion forum. The article is a follow-up to serious issues raised by Moss-Solomon in a previous Public Opinion column titled 'Urgent need for detailed research on school sports', published on May 12, 2017

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