THE Inter-Secondary Schools Assocation (ISSA) yesterday announced that changes have been made to the 2011 high school football competition, which is set to start on Saturday, September 10.
The season opens with a whopping 16 matches in the rural area daCosta Cup competition, including the feature clash between title-holders Rusea's High and Green Island High at the Montego Bay Sports Complex in Catherine Hall, St James at 4:00 pm.
The Catherine Hall venue will also be the site of the opening ceremony and the 2:00 pm Manning Cup curtain-raiser between reigning champions Jamaica College and former winners Camperdown High. No other matches will be played in the Manning Cup on that day.
Forty-two schools will contest the Manning Cup, which is now divided into seven groups, alphabetically named from A to G, instead of the six that were used last year. Its rural area counterpart consists of 79 teams and remains a 12-zone affair, listed from A to L.
ISSA president Dr Walton Small told the Observer he is pleased with this season's structure, which was spearheaded by daCosta Cup chairman Denham McIntrye.
"When I went through the structure of the competition I became very convinced that it is not going to be as hectic as last year.
"We had some concerns last year in terms of the frequency of matches and what we have done is not perfect, but I know it will significantly improve the situation," Dr Small said at the launch of the ISSA/Gatorade/Digicel Manning and daCosta Cup competitions at the Terra Nova Hotel.
St Elizabeth Technical coach Andrew Edwards said that "gradually changes are being made" by the schools' body, but believes more needs to be done to further improve the structure of both competitions.
"I would say that overall things look okay. Nothing much has changed for the structure of the daCosta Cup, but I see there is a slight change with the Manning Cup with the additional group.
"We think with the daCosta Cup, we could have had additional zones so that there wouldn't be any zone with more than six teams. Unfortunately, those proposals were made but not accepted for this year, but there have been improvements over the years and I'm happy that gradually changes are being made," said last year's Ben Francis KO winning coach.
Also present at the launch were Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president Captain Horace Burrell, Digicel Jamaica sports sponsorship manager Paula Pinnock-McLeod, Pepsi-Cola Jamaica marketing manager Carlo Redwood, Restaurants of Jamaica (KFC) marketing co-ordinator Ryan Silvera and CVM Group's sales and marketing vice-president Ronnie Sutherland.
Sports hydration entity Gatorade has officially replaced the iconic Pepsi soft drink as one of the main sponsors of the competition. Pepsi-Cola, which also distributes the Gatorade brand in Jamaica, has formed a longstanding relationship with ISSA over the years.
In the meantime, Dr Small expressed concern over the quality of the playing facilities and urged the government and corporate Jamaica to see sports as a worthy investment.
"The quality of the fields is a concern because the young men can't display their best under some of these conditions. We are appealing to corporate Jamaica, we are appealing to the government that though we understand economic conditions are rough, sport is a big industry and a big money earner so if we invest now it will pay off," he said, while noting that Caribbean neighbours Trinidad & Tobago have invested heavily in playing surfaces in a bid to improve the sport.
Captain Burrell also made an impassioned plea that "it's the responsibility of the government", and declared that the Jamaica Labour Party-led administration "needs to step up to the plate".