‘Passion for KC’

‘Passion for KC’

New athletics coach Harrison relishing chance to lead powerful 'Purples'

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 11, 2014

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NEIL Harrison's achievements as an athletics and football coach have landed him a major assignment at all-boy high school, Kingston College.

Harrison, a former Tivoli Gardens Comprehensive High School middle-distance runner, leaves the outstanding St Elizabeth-based high school, Munro College, also an all-boy institution, to take on the job of head coach for athletics and teacher of physical education at the 89-year-old Anglican school with its trademark purple and white colours. It marks the first time in over 50 years that a non-KC Old Boy is given the charge to coach the athletics team.

The nomenclature of head coach was created from a restructuring exercise that the school undertook shortly after its massive defeat by Calabar at the Boys' and Girls' Athletic Championships, known popularly as Champs, last April.

The post of technical director, held by KC Old Boy Orville Byfield, who parted company with the school in May, was thus abolished.

"I am happy to be a part of the KC family," Harrison told the Jamaica Observer in an exclusive interview at his new place of employment on Wednesday.

"I don't know what exists at KC now, but the school has high standards and always does very well in academics, sports... whatever it is, KC always stands out. But I know Neil Harrison. I have been to Clarendon College, St George's College, Munro College, Turks and Caicos and I have never been to an institution and not delivered. My track record speaks for itself. Everywhere I go I have impacted lives, not only on the track but off it," stated Harrison, a product of Rousseau Primary School in St Andrew.

KC's Principal Dave Myrie told the Observer that he was certain that Harrison could play the role that the school expected of him.

"Apart from his duties as a teacher, I am giving Neil a five-year contract to coach the athletics team," revealed Myrie, who, like Harrison, has no scholastic affiliation to the institution with campuses at North Street and Elletson Road in Central Kingston.

"I did my research on Mr Harrison and he has always built a team out of nothing, all the time. He is a teacher, a coach, and a developmental coach. I have nearly 2,000 boys at KC, so we must can find boys in KC who didn't come here because of track and field, and who were big stars anywhere, but have shown athletic ability and can develop into elite athletes.

"I would love to see a team, in the end, to have total KC through, and through from class three to class one. If somebody does well and wants to come into sixth form, then fine, but it wouldn't be a case wherein KC needs to get this boy because he was a high jumper or whatever. So the approach is building from the bottom up.

"Neil's track record speaks for itself. He is well-respected and while most coaches have egos, with Neil there is no fanfare, no ego, he is very calm, very understated and that appealed to me. This is what we need at KC. Everything about Neil appeals to me," Myrie said.

Not only has the graduate of the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport stamped his mark on local athletics coaching, but he has also done exceedingly well as a football coach, guiding the Clarendon College daCosta Cup team to success in 1991.

However, it is his work particularly with athletes at Munro College, among them World Junior 200 metres champion Delano Williams of the Turks & Caicos Islands, that stands out.

By why KC at this time? the coach
was asked.

"KC tends to live by their motto ... you can feel that in the competitive arena. I wanted to attend either KC or JC (Jamaica College) and I ended up at Tivoli, so I am a KC man at heart," said Harrison, who will also be heartened by the fact that GC Foster, in whose honour the Cuban-built, St Catherine-based tertiary institution is named, also coached at KC.

"I have always had a passion for KC, plus I realised that we were not in a position to win Champs at Munro, as we don't have the depth. As a coach you say to yourself you can't win Champs, what are your aims and objectives, and out of that came for me to develop talent. We had 15 students last year who graduated from Munro's track and field team and all 15 got scholarships whether locally or overseas.

"Between 1997 and now Munro has received over 150 athletic scholarships and for me, getting scholarships is even harder than winning Champs," Harrison said.

But the road to finally deciding on leaving Munro for KC had its share of bumps. Still, Harrison decided that, come what may, he would take the chance of embracing an even more challenging assignment, what with the high expectations of the KC fraternity in an area in which the school has had more championship successes than any other.

"It was a tough decision for me to make. A lot of people feel that it was a dumb decision for me to go to KC. If I talk to 300 persons, 299 of them will tell me not to go to KC. There were so many negatives, but I can think for myself and from a spiritual perspective I am strenghtened by the fact that when they were about to crucify Jesus, the crowd said 'give us Barrabas and crucify Jesus', which tells me that the crowd is not always right.

"Coming into the KC family, not one person gave me any blessing - they say I am stupid, I am dumb, or 'Neil I thought you were wiser than that'. But wherever I go I can create an impact. I listen more than I speak, because I am quiet and unassuming, and I always believe that if you listen you learn more," the coach said.

Myrie, sought to comfort Harrison by admitting that he, too, had many detractors when he decided to accept the job of principal two years ago.

"When I was coming to KC, a whole lot of people called me and told me I was mad - they don't know how I would manage the Old Boys. I have been at KC for two years and I am still trying to see where the Old Boys are running the school. There is not an Old Boy who has come to me and said, 'you must open that door'.

"As principal, I need to get more strong, good males in the system, this being a boys' school. KC's number one priority now is not to win Champs in the next year or two - it is about developing a team and building a base in a couple of years which will make us a dominant force for a long time. We are about longevity," Myrie said.

And just what will Harrison bring to the table?

"I think I have high standards as an individual. I am a no-nonsense person, and you cannot use my size to determine anything... as they say small axe falls big tree," the diminutive tactician said.

"My personality is of such that I am easily loved, I enjoy nurturing talent and that is one of the reasons why I enjoyed being at Munro, in the sense that they don't really recruit for athletics, and so it brings out the best in you because you will have a great team in one, two or three years, but after that you have to rebuild again. That has strengthened me somewhat.

"I am not afraid to lose, but I also have a passion to develop and rebuild... that brings out the strength in you as a coach. I enjoy spotting talent.

"I also take responsibility when things go wrong. I don't point fingers," said Harrison.

Munro made several efforts to retain Harrison, and he even confessed that he felt like a 'Judas', somewhat of a betrayal of a fine relationship that he has enjoyed with the school based in the village of Potsdam, in the parish's South East region.

Although Munro has never won Champs under his stewardship, he takes pride in beating the top-name schools in an event like the 4x400 metres relay, which Munro has dominated in the last decade, including 17 consecutive victories between 1999 and 2000 at development meets and Champs.

"A lot of people see me as a 4x400 specialist or a 400 specialist, but we really can't win Champs at Munro, so I always have to make a statement, and a good statement is to close the show. If KC or Calabar are trying to win Champs and they can't close the show, I feel good hurting them and I have done that on several occasions. That for me was a pride and joy," he said.

KC and Munro have always had good relations, as former KC sportsmaster Trevor Parchment and the school's second principal, Douglas Forrest, attended Munro College and made their presence felt at the Kingston institution.

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