I suppose congratulations are in order to my Alma Mater St George's College (STGC for once again assembling an almost unbeatable schoolboy football team. I am, however, experiencing a withdrawal of enthusiasm.
It seems to be brought about by the acknowledgement as stated by a number of respected sports pundits and insiders, that STGC makes exquisite use of the loosely governed transfer market to put together a virtually invincible team loaded with talent, as would befit an all-schools team, a sports academy or a professional football club. This status is alluded to by the sobriquets "FC" and "United" often affixed by sports commentators and others to the STGC name.
This is fuelled by facts like the observation that of the seven STGC players, who are on the Jamaica Under-20 squad, at least six are transfers, that the Georgian on the Jamaica Under-17 squad is a transfer and that on this year's squad there are at least 10 youngsters who came from other schools.
Hence, I think it is only fair that we give credit to some of the schools and coaches that have played such a major role in developing and exposing this talent. I refer to schools and coaches including those of Mona High, Waterford, Hydel, Excelsior, Trench Town High, Calabar Primary and Junior High, Holy Trinity etc. In the Manning Cup final against Hydel, it is said that Hydel's two best players were representing STGC.
In recognition of the changing times, it has been suggested that the cheer, which roused people like myself to do things on the football field that we never knew we had in us — "STGC good and true, we are the boys of the white and blue...." be changed to "STGC, Mona High, Waterford, Hydel, Excelsior, etc good and true, we are the boys of the white and blue..."
I think they, at least, deserve some of the glory and funds — a finder's fee perhaps? Some have suggested a transfer fee — especially realising that they could have endeavoured to grab all the fame, funding etc for themselves, by keeping their stars. This may have helped them not only to have better sports programmes, but to become better educational institutions and so help Jamaica to increase its probability of giving all its children a higher quality education — a very secondary consideration it seems these days.
In my time in high school, St George's College was totting up six consecutive Jamaica Scholarships, two Rhodes Scholarships and at the same time winning the Manning Cup, Olivier Shield and Walker Cup football crowns. When did we last produce a Jamaica scholar? We were passionate, fanatical even about football and produced more football "brightly shining stars" than all the other schools combined. Our stars, as described by the Gleaner of the time, "shone like diamonds in a pan of coal". We loved football to death. We produced more young footballers on the Jamaica senior team than all other high schools combined. We were, figuratively, the football academy of high schools. On one All-Schools team that represented Jamaica in Haiti, STGC had six picks — Jackie Bell, Dennis Barnett, Richard Domville, Dennis Chung, Trevor Summers and Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham. Dennis Zaidie was the reserve. These were "homegrown" — discovered, nurtured and developed by STGC, academically able and brilliant at sports.
They all qualified academically for STGC and maintained passing grades while in school. The currency at that time to stay in the school was academic competence. Those Georgians and others underline again the lie being perpetuated, by those who would continue to use our youngsters through transfers for athletic purposes, that academics and sports talent are mutually exclusive. It is not true. There is no good reason to transfer sports talent into our high schools, which are specialised academic/technical institutions — not sports academies. The overwhelming role of sports in the framework of high school is as a teaching tool, a teaching aid, a socialising agent, a confidence builder to help all our students understand that they have stars and heroes within them and they can be whatever they wish to be. Develop and use the talent that our competitive academic system allocates to our schools. Schools just have to motivate and manage their students properly. Practise whole child development.
As Arthur McKenzie, one of STGC's most illustrious sons and coaches, put it in an interview with The West Indian Sportsman: "Let me tell everybody this: before they judge St George's, they must remember the policy of this school. Some boys that I coach are unable to keep their places in the school, but other schools welcome them with open arms. St George's makes no concession for football ability: five boys that once attended St George's are now going elsewhere."
Those five boys were all academically very able youngsters who were very talented at sports. They were just not focusing on academics at the time. The move helped all of them to refocus in time so that all became very successful, useful and productive citizens. It was the policy of the school that except in very rare, special cases, those, who qualified academically for the school and maintained good grades, attended and retained their places at the school. It was felt that our representatives should be chosen from among those. They truly, genuinely represented who we were and were representative of the true spirit in which school sports should be encouraged. STGC, as did many other schools, focused on its core mission — the academic/technical development of its charges as well as their proper socialisation. The best interest of the students and life after sports, not just winning at sports, was the motivation of the school.
The ability to kick a football or run fast does not mean that a person has any more right to a place in a given academic/technical school than any other young citizen. We must look at other options. Even in Barbados, our Caribbean neighbour, the producer of some of the best cricketers the world has seen, sports plays no role in determining the high school that one attends. Sir Garfield Sobers, perhaps the best allrounder of all times, could not get a transfer to a higher-rated academic school and had to attend the school for which he qualified academically. His cricket development took place outside the school. But then, I suppose, Barbados is characterised by civility and a very high literacy rate.
Our very own Raheem Sterling of Liverpool FC fame, who left our shores as a lad, developed his football talent in the academies of the English Football Clubs, not in school.
I am told that times have changed and this is so true. We are now living in a knowledge-based world economy, which demands even more urgently that education be our top priority. The heavy focus on winning sporting events at the high school level that is strongly suggested by the large number of transfers in our sports teams is not in keeping with the traditions of St George's and doesn't seem like a step in the right direction for the proper education and socialisation of Jamaica's youth.