UP to a few years ago, the conclusion of the local schoolboy football season would have been the showdown between the All-Manning and the All-daCosta Cup squads.
Strangely, what was once a staple occasion has all but disappeared — subject to, it seems, the whim and fancy of the organisers and the changing weather pattern which, in all fairness, tends to hamper the sport at this time of year.
In fact, it seems this once highly anticipated event is now merely an afterthought, probably usurped by the emergence of an All-Schools squad that seems to have gained traction over the past few years with its short series against its counterparts from Trinidad & Tobago and/or Florida in the United States.
While the concept of an All-Schools squad is commendable, though, it should not be a replacement competition for the former, which has the additional benefit of showcasing two times the number of young football talent the island has to offer. In fact, I daresay both are critical to the success of the sport and, as a matter of policy, should comfortably co-exist.
It is to the credit of the administrators of any sporting competition to assemble an ‘all-star’ cast as it demonstrates a sophisticated level of planning and a sensibility to the importance of identifying the best athletes in a given year.
Further, it bolsters the résumé of the players and helps to craft the careers of these youngsters who can benefit through scholarships and other offers from around the world. Again, such a contest is really a last hurrah for the players from the respective competitions and gives an insight into the national standards that exist at a given time.
Most importantly, such a game is just reward for a tough season as it provides a benchmark for the players to aspire towards and, in a significant way, determines the level of success for individual players in the various positions on the field of play.
I would suggest that not having a game of this nature is the equivalent of administering an academic test and failing to provide meaningful feedback, thus denying students the opportunity of assessing their strengths and weaknesses and bringing closure to an important academic module.
In the USA, the naming of an all-star cast is as much a ‘biggie’ as winning a championship in any sport, to the extent that conferences often name a first, a second, and even a third team to indicate the level of as many athletes as possible in any given year.
One distinct benefit of such a practice is that it gives exposure to talented athletes whose teams are weak and cannot progress to the ‘business end’ of the respective competitions.
Here in Jamaica, the Manning and daCosta Cup competitions have become pervasive enough to tangibly assist in the selection of national age-group squads, including the Under-23 Olympic outfit. Indeed, due to the recent reform of the education system which fuses the former New Secondary schools with the traditional high schools, almost all the available local talent will more than likely be on display in either of these competitions and are therefore to be carefully nurtured.
The assembling of an ‘all-star’ outfit involving an urban and a rural squad is theoretically an accelerated national thrust that could serve as a developmental programme for the Under-20 World Cup and Under-23 Olympic Qualifiers. Interestingly, the latter is the only global event for which Jamaica has never qualified. With no shortage of talent in this country, this has to be attributed to administrative lethargy, which includes a lack of strategic planning and the underprivileging of such an important tournament.
With over 100 high schools under its purview in both Manning and daCosta Cup, the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) obviously has its hands full in monitoring these competitions and is to be commended for its work so far. However, this august school-based entity must also look to improve its product; finding a way to ‘reinstate’ the important All-Manning-All-daCosta encounter would be as good a starting point as any.
Over the past few seasons, ISSA has justifiably explained the time constraints for such an engagement, coming as it does at the back-end of a long season which is often affected by the weather.
Additionally, the plethora of schools competing in both urban and rural competitions, along with the sheer breadth of the latter, makes it a logistical nightmare to complete the fixtures in the time available. ISSA should, however, reconsider the dismantling of a hallowed tradition that is part and parcel of schoolboy sport and which has been in existence for a long time.
Simultaneously, ISSA may also wish to accentuate the all-island Olivier Shield Final which is seemingly approaching the winter of its existence. A prestigious two-way tie that pits the winners of the respective urban and rural area competitions, the oldest schoolboy contest has been slowly dwindling in interest and needs urgent resuscitation.
In fact, it’s standard fare for only the fans of the two schools to be present at this event these days because, I suspect, it has not been adequately ‘sold’ to the public. Playing the twoway tie at venues that will attract fans and encourage good football would be an excellent starting point.
Finally, considering that there used to be time to even unify the winners of the two KO winners for the Nutrament Shield, this elusive element has to be found in the interest of schoolboy football.