Memory of track & field glory days spurs StGC old boys
Members of St George's College's track and field team warm up during a practice session at the school's campus last Thursday.

St George's College is a giant in schoolboy football but shrinks in stature when it comes to track and field.

However, part of the school's broad sporting plan is to return to the glory days of yesteryear in track and field.

In the sport where it has enjoyed marked success, the white and light blue lads from North Street have won the Manning Cup — the symbol of Corporate Area schoolboy football supremacy — 22 times while capturing the all-island Olivier Shield 14 times to be among the elite of the sport at school level.

That success, however, has not been duplicated in track and field, with St George's winning Boys' Champs — the standard for schoolboy track and field — twice, with their last triumph coming nearly a century ago.

Their first success was in 1914 when the competition was still in its formative years, having only started four years prior, with their only other success being in 1925.

It has been 97 years since that victory with the last Manning Cup title being in 2012, which ended a five-year span during which St George's lifted the trophy four times, while also capturing the Olivier Shield in each of those same years.

The football/track and field conundrum has puzzled past athletes-turn-corporate executives Don Wehby and Andrew Price, who agree that the school is stronger at football than track and field simply because that is where the focus lies, but still believe that the school is underachieving in athletics.

“I don't know if it's the level of concentration that the school puts into particular sports. I know football is predominantly the most focused at St George's College, even when I was attending school, but despite that fact we used to always do well in Champs,” Price said.

“Historically, if we look at the school, the school has only won Champs twice so track and field is not a priority for the school. I guess for it to be focused we will have to have a certain amount of investment, not only in resources, in coaches and to get the youngsters motivated to get involved in the sport.

“So I think that is something that the sports master and the school's sports council must look into seriously. If they want to make a solid presence in track and field then they need to get the required investment and the required resources together to assist the youngsters to compete and compete at a high level,” Price added.

Said Wehby, bluntly: “It's the whole issue of focus and putting the proper resources behind it.”

The current manager of the track and field team Lyndon Latore, also a past student, argues, however, that St George's have been having relative success, as while they have remained out of the top positions in Champs for several years now, they have still managed to produce some good athletes over the period, including long jumper Amari Officer, who placed second in the Class Two long jump in 2021.

The seven points earned by Officer, the only George's athlete at Champs last year because of the pandemic, enabled the school to finish 18th in the standings.

According to Latore, one of the issues at St George's is that there has not been a consistent level of quality performances. He argues that the school has done well some years while faltering in other years, which he attributes to what amounts to a lack of depth.

He said St George's have also changed three coaches in the last few years, which has also affected the morale and camaraderie within the programme, with athletes who were being groomed for success migrating to other schools.

Wehby, who is the CEO of GraceKennedy, title sponsors of the Boys' and Girls' Championships, more popularly called Champs, believes that the school's failure to achieve rests with the track and field leadership structure at the institution.

He said the track and field programme at St George's has been getting help from past students Chris and Mark Berry of Mayberry Investment Limited, which he believes has not translated into success in competition.

“I can say, when I go to Champs as the main sponsor and my alma mater gets zero points, it's not a good feeling. And I noticed that Chris and Mark Berry of Mayberry have been pumping funds to support the track and field team and I have seen no real improvement.

“So the question I would ask myself, who is being held accountable to show improvement? So I would suggest to St George's College [that] they need to look at the whole structure of their track and field programme and treat it with some priority, as they do with football because we have been doing well with football,” Wehby said.

The situation is also somewhat worrying for Price, who won the Manning Cup in 1983 with St George's and also got points at Champs in the long jump pits, with St George's finishing in the top 10.

“It is a little concerning that St George's is not amongst the top schools. We were always in the top 10 during my time and we have slowly seen the school not feature even in the top 20 over the last couple of years,” Price said.

Wehby, Price and Latore, as well as current Head Coach Gavin James, believe the talent is within the school to rejuvenate the programme and return St George's College among the top 10 of schoolboy track and field.

According to Wehby and Latore, a system needs to be put in place to spot talent within St George's as was the situation when they were students.

Wehby said he was more focused on cricket when he entered St George's in first form, but won the 100 metres at the institution's sports day and was quickly recruited to the track and field programme.

Price agrees, while adding that finding the talent within the walls of St George's will be critical, as the boys will enable them to achieve a level of success at Champs, which will bring further success to the programme.

“We have done it in football and we have done it in other sports like basketball, lacrosse, cricket in Sunlight [Cup] which we have won. I believe it's just about putting the effort and the motivation behind the students who are at the school to get involved in track and field.

“We didn't always recruit [in football] so what we have to do is harness the local talent that we have within the school and once the students drop into first form, we have a serious sports day and we get athletes involved from a very early age, so we can start from Class Four until they matriculate up on to Class One,” Price noted.

Latore also noted that recruiting was not always a strong feat of the St George's football programme. According to the manager, it was the success of the team that fuelled the recruitment system as it made the football programme attractive.

He stated that talented footballers were also spotted by outsiders, who encouraged them to try out for St George's Manning Cup team and this is what he is hoping will happen with the track programme, after the talent that is in the school is identified and some level of success is achieved.

For Coach James, who is in his second year at the school, the current talent pool is especially in the jumps. James said he was once a coach at the primary level of the school system and sees boys who used to do well in track and field at prep and primary schools' championships at the institution not participating in track and field.

“High jumpers, long jumpers are in the school but I don't know if it is because there wasn't any jumps programme or anything, [so] the kids get complacent and say 'oh, I don't see anything' so they move to football or cricket. So I know that talent is in the school so we have to just work and get them,” James said.

Wehby is looking forward to the talented athletes being identified, supported and nurtured to bring themselves and St George's success in the Boys' Athletics Championships.

“I am hoping that the old boys will get more involved, which is also very important for the success of any school programme, and I am hoping that they would examine the performance of the people in charge and hold them accountable for better performances,” he said.

BY JOB NELSON Observer Online Writter

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