J'can McKenzie embraces challenge after athletics appointment at Georgetown University

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J'can McKenzie embraces challenge after athletics appointment at Georgetown University

BY PAUL A REID
Observer writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, December 03, 2020

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While he said he had ambitions of becoming the director of Track & Field/Cross Country at his alma mater Georgetown University, former Calabar High athlete Alton McKenzie said he was surprised when the oppurtuity presented itself earlier this year.

McKenzie, who is entering his fifth year as a part of the coaching staff at Georgetown Hoyas, an institution in Washington DC, known internationally for their basketball programmes, said the timing of the offer came like a bolt from the blue.

“I'm humbled and honoured to be named the director of Track & Field and Cross Country here at Georgetown. The timing was surprising as there wasn't an expectation that the opportunity was forthcoming.” he told the Jamaica Observer last week.

Asked what he thought made him the candidate of choice for the job, McKenzie, who had headed the University of District of Columbia (UDC) women's Cross Country/Track & Field programme and also served as the head men's cross country coach at UDC from 2011-13, said his work speaks for him.

“I've never been one to determine what others would see in me, but I'm a Georgetown alum who had success at the University of the District of Columbia before being offered an opportunity to return to my alma mater [in my role as the associate head coach for four seasons]. Heading into my fifth year back on the Hilltop and now asked to lead the next chapter of Georgetown's programme as the director, is just privileged opportunity I am excited to accept,” McKenzie said.

The health of the athletes in the programme, he notes, was the priority during the novel coronavirus pandemic, telling the Observer that this was his short-term focus.

“Keeping our student-athletes healthy in these uncertain times during this pandemic [was the priority]. I can't get too far past that…we must instil compassion more than passion for our coaching approach as we progress through our current realities. Long-term plans remains what has always been our focus. Being competitive on a national level and recruit student-athletes who leave Georgetown better than when they arrived,” he shared.

McKenzie, who was a sprint hurdler while at Calabar, said: “[It was] hard to put in words how much harder is it in this time when we are dealing with the COVID pandemic and all the restrictions and protocols involved.

“We're all facing these difficult times. I'm empathetic for our student-athletes who are impacted and unable to train and compete. Their window of opportunity to compete is limited and us as coaches may have more than the four-five years to continue our careers. But at the end of the day, again I must say, my thought is about health first and foremost for our student-athletes.”

The day to day running of the programme, while dealing with COVID-19, was a demanding one for him.

“All I can say is Zoom fatigue is real. Every situation based on location may vary, but with us being in an extended dead period by the NCAA, we remain in a virtual world recruiting, so from that perspective, there's a lot of time interacting via Zoom and being on the phone. My reality may be slightly different than others...but I'm dealing with these challenges as best as I can, like most. Just focusing on what I can control,” noted McKenzie.

While the Big East Conference has cancelled the Indoor Championships for 2021, there is still a chance there could be an indoor season as well as outdoors, but McKenzie said the exact format was still to be seen.

“Well, there may be indoor and outdoor seasons this year in some shape or form…[the] real question is whether programmes will be able to participate fully and safely. By location and areas of the country you may see meets being kept (much the same soccer and football is being played across the country but not in all locations) while other areas of the country there are no competitions,” he said.

On a wider scale, McKenie said the same thing could be said for the Olympics set for Tokyo next year.

“We'll have to see as time progresses...we're still in the midst of a pandemic. I wish I had a crystal ball to see what's forthcoming, but I'm hoping we can get to that point where the Olympics can be a reality. I expect that it won't be in the format that we've been accustomed to. Not sure we will return to full stadiums any time soon…for any sporting event. How the fan presence gets managed is what will be a huge challenge,” McKenzie stated.

Even with the Olympic Games next year, McKenzie said being included on a coaching panel was not his immediate goal.

“Right now I'm going to have my hands full ensuring my Georgetown programme is structured in a manner to have sustainable success, so that's my first priority [and that will keep me busy enough as it is],” he said.

“Anything else would be nice but I wouldn't say it's a prerequisite for me to feel I'm a successful coach; being part of Jamaica's national coaching set up or any national coaching set up for that matter,” McKenzie added.

It would be “a privilege to even be considered, but that's not what I'm focused on currently. I'm more hopeful that I can have an opportunity to coach someone who's able to compete for Jamaica [having had the privilege of having one of our Georgetown student-athletes compete at the 2019 Junior National Trials was a start]. Student-athlete first is my approach…and if there are ambitions to compete to represent their country, I certainly plan to be a part of that process,” McKenzie said.

Asked if he thought his appointment would open the doors for more scholarship offers to qualified Jamaicans from Georgetown, McKenzie said: “As a programme, we are always interested in creating opportunities for student-athletes looking for a great balance of academics and athletics. I'm sure there may be future Hoyas we could welcome to the Hilltop from Jamaica. Who knows, we will see what the future holds,” he ended.


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