Victory at the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) is relative.
For teams like Kingston College, Calabar High, Edwin Allen High, and Hydel High, victory is taking their respective championship titles. For other schools, victory can mean being able to field a team to compete and give their schoolmates belief in themselves. One of these schools is Gaynstead High.
Based in the community of Swallowfield in St Andrew, Gaynstead is a small high school whose claim to sporting fame is based on success in netball. There are efforts to develop a long-term track and field programme and those continue when the school takes nine athletes (six girls) to Champs this week.
They will feature in all the jumps, the 400m, and hurdles events at various class levels. They will also feature in one of the relay events.
Coached by Douglas Williams, formerly of Excelsior High School, their ambition this year is to get to as many finals as possible. This, team Manager Derrick Brown says, helps the process of making them more rounded members of society in the future.
"At our size, we'll never be able to win Champs," Brown told the Jamaica Observer. "The other students being able to go to Champs and have a moment to cheer for their school — when I started, that was my objective. For them to go to Champs and have a moment for themselves and not cheer for every other school but theirs."
Brown, a pastor in the community, has volunteered his service to the school for now over 15 years and he says that despite the challenges because of a lack of funding and other resources, it is fulfilling to know that he is making a difference in the lives of youngsters through sport. He says the small size of the team allows him to bond with each student-athlete as though they were his own children.
"We try to have that bond, not just with the athletes, but with the parents," he said. "A child can call and say 'I don't have any bus fare or lunch money for tomorrow,' I'll say 'send the child come and when I get there, I'll give them'.
"For me, it's about calling the parents and checking up on the child. When the report comes, I get a copy of the report, I sit down and talk to them about that report and about getting the subjects so that they can move on to university.
"We also encourage the coaches to ensure that they get to know these children, as well as the parents."
But Gaynstead's challenge lies in the $2 million, Brown says, it needs to fund the team's Champs campaign yearly.
"Our population is about 450 students," he said. "It's hard to get even parents to pay the voluntary fee. It makes it even more difficult for us to get funding. Even though we have won netball several times, that programme is also hard to fund. It's not really coming to us from corporate Jamaica and we don't have a big past student association either."
He also laments not having a training base in an ideal location. The netball team trains on a paved area which was taken from an area of the school's parking lot. This was made possible by the support of past student and Sport Minister Olivia Grange, through the Sports Development Foundation.
The team once used a dirt track near Stadium East, which measures roughly 200m as its training base, but that ceased with the COVID-19 pandemic. They have since moved to Excelsior Community College on Mountain View Avenue and Brown is concerned about his athletes having to travel through communities known for violent outbursts to get to and from training each evening.
"Many of these girls are in seventh and eighth grade," he said. "When you have young ladies travelling, security is a concern. In the past, we used to have a little more access to Stadium East. They would charge a little one-time fee for the entire season because we're in that community.
"Years ago, they would train by where the [National Indoor Sports Centre] is now but the community no longer has access to that. Since this year, we are asked to pay per session, which lasts two hours each. It can be up to $36,000 a month."
Brown thanks Grange for the support she gave to create the netball court, but says it will take more than just her efforts to solve their problems.
"She is a very busy lady but when she can help, she does help," he said. "She has tried and we're not going to say she hasn't helped us, but it's one person and it's difficult for us to find others who are willing to help."
Brown says the long-term goal is to empower these athletes to gain scholarships so they can provide support for their families and also the school. This is already happening with its netballers, a number of whom are now in the national programme, and former track athlete Paul Henry, now studying at The Mico University College.
"We want to do that for more of the youngsters because, without that support and getting a scholarship, many of them would just be at home sitting down after high school," Brown said. "Most of them are from the inner city and their parents don't even think about university.
"I say to the parents, 'Listen, you have never been to college, let your child be the first in the family to do so. That is instilled in the children that when they finish high school, they should want to go to college."
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