Let the children play!Tuesday, May 04, 2021
I write this article with great frustration at the adult population in Jamaica and the uncaring and selfish attitude we have towards children. Recently, Champs got the “green light” and that decision spawned numerous responses from all quarters. There is the usual noise regarding prioritising sports over academics; statements that the decision was for monetary gain; and questions regarding how this decision could be made and yet we are in a lockdown. Some said children cannot go to school, yet they can do Champs — how could that be? We have heard it all, and we have heard it all from prominent people and organisations in our society.
But let me state clearly that I think all the outcry about Champs and other sports being given the green light are selfish and unreasonable. Let me give some background so people will get the context of where I am coming from. I am, first and foremost, a Jamaican. I am a Jamaican with three children, all boys. I now reside in the US. I was born and grew up in Jamaica. I attended one of the prominent all-boys schools in Kingston. At the age of 20 I earned a scholarship and went off to college in the US, where I resided for 10 years. I returned to Jamaica with my wife and children in 2007, where I lived until 2018 when I returned to the US. While living in Jamaica, I was a parent-teacher association president and had various roles in the schools that my children attended as far as parent team manager for different sports. I love sports and I believe sports, and play in general, are essential parts of a child's development.
I grew up, like most of you, playing sports, though I was somewhat of a bookworm; however, at the age of 16 going on 17 years old I started to play basketball. And while I did not represent my school, I would play basketball anywhere I could, including in the national league as a teen. Playing basketball did not affect my academics. In fact, it boosted my confidence, and I did well in my A-Levels. I think it is important that a background is established.
Last year, 2020, the world was hit with a pandemic and most major sports were cancelled. My immediate concern went to the children, especially the ones who were in a transition year and played sports. How would this cancellation affect them? Will they have to give up a sport they have put so much blood, sweat and tears in. Would they have to give up a sport they love and have God-given talent to perform? If they are transitioning, how would this cancellation affect their ability to get scholarships? This decision, I immediately realised, would affect the lives of thousands of children, ultimately changing the course of their lives.
As adults, we no longer have to worry about those things, do we? But what about the children? Sports was ultimately cancelled in March 2020 and in the US that meant the cancellation of March Madness in Basketball, it also meant no track season for high school children in the US. In Jamaica, the big shoe to drop was the cancellation of the annual Boys' and Girls' Championships. And, since our basketball high school season runs in this time period, it also meant the cancellation of basketball and many other sports. Thousands of Jamaican students were affected and many student athletes, who were in the last year to showcase their talents, were left wondering how they would navigate the next phase of their lives if they are not able to get scholarships.
Don't get the wrong impression, it's not just about getting scholarships. I know that many Jamaicans look at sports as secondary to academics, and often argue in favour of academics over sports, but that's a little short-sighted. Sports can be educational and, in many ways, teach skills that academics do not that ultimately makes one a more well-rounded individual. Sports teaches collaboration, problem-solving, leadership, and the ability to take instructions. Sports builds character and confidence. It also forces you to interact with the world, navigate the world, and understand the world by dealing with the differences and commonalities in people. These skill sets are invaluable in the corporate world and in leadership. Sports is education!
The usual title sponsor of Champs, GraceKennedy, is headed by Don Wehby who, as a youth, participated in Champs. And I recall an interview many years ago in which he spoke articulately about how impactful sports was in his life and the benefits in leadership, and so on. Here is the proof.
Today, we, as adults, who gained the benefits of sports, who enjoyed watching the sports and the excitement events such as Champs bring us as adults, now want to deny our children. How selfish can we be? We can forego Champs, basketball, tennis, and all sports because, as adults, we no longer play them and we can forego the enjoyment we get from watching, but what about the children? None of us lost two years in our childhood where we were told that we can't play any sports. These are two years they will never get back.
The coaches know how the loss of sports is affecting the children. You may not have a child that plays sports, but these are all our children. I believe the coaches understand the mental toll that all this change to schooling in general is having on the children. Adults are making decisions that affect children and they have no idea what the future looks like. Before last year our children could dream, and now, when they close their eyes, they are left with emptiness because they have no idea how the decision that the adults make will affect their tomorrow. They don't know what tomorrow looks like and many of them are suffering mentally in silence.
I do not know the reason that the stakeholders want to hold Boys' and Girls' Champs. It does not matter if there is financial gain. The only thing that matters is that it is good for the children. This is not about the adults.
Like I said before, I have been in the US since 2018 and I have three boys, ages 17, 14 and eight. My oldest son plays three sports — American football, basketball and track; my middle son does track, and the youngest just plays. This last year the high school they attend played 11 football games, they had a full basketball season and now, during track season, they have participated in five track meets so far. I attended all their games. We signed up our eight-year-old for travel basketball and he played in eight tournaments between January and March of this year. A couple Fridays ago I attended a high school track meet in which my middle son participated, and I sat behind the parents from a competing school, whose son won the 100m in 10.8 seconds, 200m in 21.5 seconds (a school record), and 400m in 49 seconds. Their son was the school's best runner and he took up track only two years ago. He has earned a full scholarship offer to University of Cincinnati to study engineering, where he will also do track and field.
Why do I mention all this? The schools and school districts are doing everything possible to ensure that they do not lose a generation of children because of COVID-19, and so they find ways to hold these sporting events for the benefit of the children, their communities, the school economies, and so on. How can we accept that others are finding a way to save their children and all we can do is “shutdown”? That is not the Jamaican creativity that I know, and if sports teach us anything, we should use the problem-solving lessons to solve the problems of having sports for the benefit of who it affects the most, and that is our children.
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