"Time for two-tiered football system," is how Hartley Anderson titled his article in the Sunday Observer (23/9/12).
"One school gets the glory, the other is forgotten," was Mark Wignall's column in the Sunday Observer of 2/9/12.
In other newspapers "ISSA must go" was the letter of the day (25/9/12) by Patrick Terrelonge, while "Gag order", "Doomed to fail" and "Modern-day slavery" were some of the other titles which referred directly or indirectly to the deviant behaviour, which instead of being recognised as a dangerous anomaly is being treated as normal by the educators and other leaders in our society.
This behaviour is the practice by our high schools of importing/recruiting/transferring students based on their sports ability in an attempt to influence the outcome of sporting events between schools. It signals the win at all costs mentality and the shifting of the role, the focus of sports in high school from education/socialisation to winning. Among other things it fosters the lowering of entry and other standards, the forging of marks, indiscipline.
This practice has many obvious and unintended negative consequences and the ills with which it is associated impact both the education and socialisation of our youth and by far outweigh the benefits. Anderson's article without directly saying so was essentially dealing with the distinct disadvantage of the schools which recognise and use sports in what should be its major role as socialising medium, as teaching tool in the educational framework of high school. His column was also dealing with those schools which, neither have the prestige, status nor money to attract the more high profile imports and so will under the present distorted system be perennially numbered among the underclass of schools re sports. Many of the latter schools are of course from the inner city, where the socialising benefits of sports and other activities are most desperately needed.
If our leaders had not allowed the distortion of our education system by importation of sports talent, then there would be a much more level playing field where sports would primarily be about character building and the inculcation of the principles, values, attitudes and life skills which our society is striving to strengthen. This of course does not mean that some schools would not win more often than others, but the probability of the type of wipe outs we are now experiencing, would be much lower. Since academic talent and other talents are not mutually exclusive, in such a scenario there would be the regular ebb and flow of success from one year to the next with such characteristics as strength of character, fighting spirit, will to win, self-belief, dedication and persistence, delaying of gratification etc, and coaching playing key roles in achievement.
As it is, these traits have little impact since the win at all costs approach of our schools and the laxity of our rules, ensure that the winners by and large are those who have the most efficient talent gathering mechanism, thus guaranteeing that essentially an all-schools team is assembled at one school. All the winners generally have a number of imports who play critical roles in their success. These imports are taken in from seventh to 10th and 12th grades. Make no bones about it, high schools import to win — full stop. It is of little or no consequence whether the youngster is rich or poor, literate, semi-literate or illiterate, coming from an institution with great facilities or none, once they have the requisite sporting talent, they will be taken in.
High schools, which do not compromise their academic/technical standards, and use sports as it should be used at high school level to socialise students who legitimately qualify to be at the particular school are at a distinct disadvantage in interscholastic sports competitions. It is unfair that schools which use these students to represent their schools should have to compete with those who have professionalised sports at the high school level by among other things importing sports talent as if the school is a sports club. We should not be using sports ability as the entry requirement for our high schools, bearing in mind that we declare allocation of space in our high schools is determined by performance on an academic entrance exam, and preference. Recruiting based on sports ability is a double standard which sends unfortunate messages to our youngsters.
As the bible says, we cannot serve two masters. It causes a conflict of interest. Therefore since sports is so important to us let us develop other options that do not warp the education and socialisation of our youth up to high school level. For example, let us look at developing or allowing some of our schools to evolve into sports academies, where the primary entrance requirement is sports ability but where the criteria for entry are declared, transparent, consistent and equitable. Sports has different roles depending on the context, the circumstances. A football game between warring communities is an attempt to cool tempers, build better relationships and help to set the tone for conflict resolution. Bringing stars in from outside the communities so that one team can have an advantage over the other re winning the match is similar to sports importation. This is defeating the purpose of the game.
We need to remember that sports should be preparing our youngsters for life after sports since the overwhelming majority of them will end their formal sporting activities after high school. Although the winning school will quickly point to the funds brought in by being number one, let not the love of money continue to blind us to what is in the best interest of our Jamaican children, our adult citizens of the future. Let us not continue to have deviant behaviour pose as normal. The stakes are too high.
Editor's note: Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham is a former Jamaica football captain.