Florida-based sports extravaganza for J'can alumni a success — organisers

By Sean Williams

Thursday, September 04, 2014

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Organisers of the annual South Florida-based Jamaica High School Alumni Sports Network (JHSASN) sports extravaganza have deemed this year's event a success.

President of the non-profit group, Lavern Deer, said the growth of the event was noted in almost every area, and was quick to point out that last weekend's staging was indeed the best-ever in its six years.

"Yes, it was a success as we have seen an increase in the number of teams. We saw an increase in spectators on Sunday, which is the preliminary rounds, and on the Monday both netball and football had an increased number of fans watching," she told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

Deer, the conceptualiser of the two-day diaspora event that aims to, in part, unite Jamaican high school alumni, said the entertainment programme was a big hit with fans who came out to party over the Labour Day weekend at the Lauderhill Sports Complex in Fort Lauderdale.

"The partygoers in the entertainment area were enjoying the music, and I am already getting calls from patrons who are reading the news and those on social media who they didn't know about the event before and will definitely be there next year.

"The vendors are happy, therefore, I am pleased to say our decision to make the event free admission has paid off. In previous years, out-of- town visitors were mainly school participants, but this year we had more out-of-town spectators than previous years, including those who flew in from Jamaica," Deer outlined.

In the 5,000-capacity Lauderhill Sports Complex, where the event is staged every year, there were at least 3,000 people (including players and spectators), according to estimates from Deer and her team, on Monday's final day.

Though JHSASN could not report a profit from the event at press time, it was happy it could pay its bills at the end of the day.

"We were able to take care of event expenses," Deer said.

In the main, the event is funded and supported by corporate and government sponsors, with teams also contributing with an entrance fee, food concession, and on event days JHSASN operates a bar.

Apart from removing the entrance fees for patrons, the organisers have also reduced the cost of entering the tournament. "We've reduced it to US$400 this year. In previous years, we've charged US$700, which included two sets of uniforms," Deer explained.

Though there is no empirical data to support the claim, JHSASN believes the staging of the event is having a positive impact on the economy of the cities of South Florida, with hundreds travelling outside the state and the country to join in the festivities.

Therefore, the tourist product, they claim, would have received a boost over a five-day period. Still, there are no specific figures or data available to measure the impact.

But Deer argues that there is one.

"Our tourism sponsors would like to continue supporting the event, however, we will have to provide records showing that hotels in Broward County are being utilised as well as spectators are visiting our malls and restaurants.

"My goal from now until the next event is to work on a tracking mechanism to capture this data as I know we are contributing economically to the surrounding cities," Deer noted.

She said the event's host hotel, the Sheraton Suites Plantation, is willing to continue partnering with JHSASN, but Deer concedes that the accommodation aspect needs to be better streamlined.

"One year a team spent over US$30,000 for meals, transportation and accommodation, so these schools are taking this seriously. In the future, we want to help them by possibly arranging packages that will ease the financial burden on them and which will bring economic spin-offs to hotels, restaurants, shops and other vital sectors within Broward County," Deer said, looking ahead to a bigger, better 2015.

"Some schools this year said they didn't find out about our host hotel until a few days before the tournament, but at that time they had already made accommodations elsewhere. But come next year, we will be more proactive in establishing a better streamlining of communication moving forward as this event is definitely a sports tourism development opportunity," she added.

Grateful for their invaluable role and service, JHSASN organisers thanked all volunteers and other partners for aiding in the successful staging of the event.

"We have to thank the volunteers, whose dedication and industry you could not possibly put a price to. Also, special thanks to our sponsors Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, JNBS, Goldson Spine Chiropractic Center, Irie FM, Caribbean National Weekly and the City of Lauderhill.

Looking ahead from a competition standpoint, Deer said her team will be working tirelessly to improve on discipline and to tweak the format to get more schools involved as they have had to reject applications for this year's edition.

"We do plan to adjust the rules to address the discipline of players. As it relates to format, our organisation will look to change the format to increase the number of schools wanting to enter. We are open to sponsors, who want to brand the event by providing uniforms for the teams as well as branding the cash prize," Deer said.

Meanwhile, Mannings High School of Westmoreland were crowned champions of the football competition, denying Kingston College the chance of being the first Corporate Area school to lift the title in a 1-0 thriller.

Dinthill Technical High won the netball trophy, defeating Vere Technical 14-13.




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