Successive governments, ISSA have failed our student athletes


Sunday, September 23, 2018

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In a recent article titled What's happening in our schools, Dr Paul Wright wrote that the blatant buying of children with athletic ability for the sole purpose of winning must be seen to be wrong and universally condemned.

While I agreed with his sentiment, I disagreed with that line of argument. Some students would probably have not made it had they not been given the opportunity to barter their athletic skills for education in these traditional high schools, which they would normally not have matriculated into.

I posit, the Government and ISSA must put in place a mandatory system that forces the schools which recruit these students to register them in remedial academic programmes at the onset.

These remedial programmes should be accessible through a mandatory student-athlete test module. Their parents or guardians who sign the consent forms must be made aware of the importance of school academics in human development.

Many of these students are recruited from the primary level during sixth grade, that is age 11-12 years if they are athletically outstanding or at the ninth grade at 14-15 years from schools like John Mills All-Age and Windward Road Junior High.

These children did not get grades of 80 per cent or higher in GSAT to ensure their matriculation into these traditional high schools, however, they have the athletic skills which can be negotiated for education. We know that some may be academically deficient, or because of social class, not exposed to the level of academic nurturing necessary to get a good grade in GSAT, therefore, the ministries of education and sports need to put structures in place that give these children a fighting chance to survive in athletics and or academia. Some are quite bright and just need the opportunity.

ISSA as an organisation needs to do far more for these student athletes. A lot of money is pumped into sports through ISSA by companies like GraceKennedy, Digicel and FLOW. These young athletes should not be used to put on the greatest high school sports show on this planet, aka Champs, yet struggle in-between training and class because nothing is in place to manage their education as they fight to showcase their country and schools.

I call upon Dr Walton Small and Mrs Colleen Montaque to step up or step down as chief executives of ISSA. The calendar effect of Champs on Brand Jamaica is mesmerising, but who ensures that boys and girls who make up the sports calendar are noticed on an off day?

It was from Champs that Kaliese Spence and Kerron Stewart, who used to attend John Mills All-Age School, emerged. ISSA and the Government need to step up to ensure that Christopher Taylor, formerly of Ewarton Primary School, transitions to an outstanding, elite senior athlete with the academic skills to demand a scholarship for whichever university he has chosen. He has served us well as World Junior 400m champion in Cali, Colombia. He did not get the prerequisite scientific and medical support that performance in a different time zone in Tampere, Finland, required, yet he gave it his all in the Under-20 Championships.

I know Principal Albert Corcho from Calabar is doing a fine job in trying to make the student athletes all they can be. I have been at Calabar and, for example, I have seen Orlando Bennett, outstanding student athlete who came second in 110m in Tampere, Finland, rounding up student athletes who were required to have remedial class before training. These student athletes would hide sometimes.

My research on performance with the Calabar team often forces me and my graduate students to counsel them on the importance of an education to their athletic development. Calabar has a mammoth task in socialising these athletes to understand that an education is as important as athletic prowess. That is Calabar.

What programme, I may ask, is in place for other schools? Where are Jhazeel Murphy and the countless others who, in spite of tremendous promises, have not transitioned into the powerhouses we thought they could have been? Do they have education to fall back on? Kevona Davis from Edwin Allen High School is injured. She is one of the best we have produced in recent years. Who is managing her psychological, nutritional and educational programme in injury to ensure that she emerges stronger for Tokyo 2020 and beyond? I hope the Government is giving her the necessary support.

Canada, not an athletic powerhouse, has come up with a funding programme designed to uncover athletes with Olympic potential and provide them with the high-performance sport resources they need to achieve their podium dreams. In seeking to be involved in some international athletic consultations, I visited a small-town university in Canada and was blown away by the support they give to young athletes between ages 13-19 years. The Government has registration grounds where these athletes and parents can be identified and be supported from elementary school right up to university. There is a national databank on them. I was awed by the data collected on some of these athletes who have been nurtured from adolescent into adulthood. None of these athletes, whether they are university material or not, are allowed to fall behind. Equally, I saw a structural approach to student athletes' development at the University of East London, Stratford, where I was taken through the methods they use — with governmental support — to move young athletes who were struggling in high school into university and the 2017 World Championships.

I was also blown away by how China has worked on Su Bingtian in adolescence — he is the first Asian to run 9.91s for 100m. I am fascinated with the identification and nurturing system the Japanese high schools and Government have for youth athletes. My big question is, where does Jamaica go from here?

The crisis with the students being barred from fifth form at Calabar prompted mixed reactions. It is the tip of the iceberg. It is time that the ministries of education and sports put something in place to ensure a smoother transition for student athletes, who many times do not have the parental and social support necessary for a smooth academic transition from high school to university, and then to success at the senior level. They often depend on the goodwill of old boys to help them. These old boys and girls often seen at Champs in the various colours are living vicariously through these athletes. If they do not perform consistently at Champs they become valueless and the social support goes.

We cannot leave student athletes in the hands of any individual, coach or school, they must be nationally protected. Calabar did not exploit these student athletes, we as a county have failed them.

Editor's note: Dr Irving is a senior lecturer in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Mona.

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