Cayman’s track and field chief intends to raise the standard of teenage participation throughout the islands to help ensure young talent achieves its full potential.
Of course, local athletics has its established stars – Cydonie Mothersill, Kareem Streete-Thompson and Ronald Forbes – as well as some other high-calibre competitors making growing contributions on the regional and international circuits – Kemar Hyman, Tyrell Cuffy, Jon Rankin and the Morgan twins, Carl and Carlos.
But there is concern that the talent now coming through at the teenage level may not fulfil their potential if not given the necessary support.
With Usain Bolt set to compete 8 May at the Cayman Invitational, there is a significant opportunity to initiate higher standards and usher in the next chapter of track and field with a renewed focus on teenage up-and-comers, including Tahj Lewis, Alex Pascal, Jonathan Frederick, Tiffany Cole and Ashleigh Nalty.
The return of American sprint champion Carmelita Jeter to the roster of world-class athletes scheduled to compete in Grand Cayman later this spring undoubtedly also offers some additional inspiration for young female athletes.
That is where Dalton Watler comes in.
Recently appointed president of Cayman Islands Amateur Athletics, after taking over from Rayle Roberts, Watler is passionate about promoting track and field locally and sees an opportunity to help foster the development of a younger generation of competitors at the secondary schools level.
“The schools are now participating, but they are not really competing,” Watler said.
“We want to see that level of competition not just from the schools but also from the colleges, the university and other higher schools so that they take it very seriously on the education calendar.
“When we first started the Inter-Secondary Schools Championships in 2007 I was the director of sports. With James Myles we asked the company Street Estate to provide some funding which they did.
“Since then we are seeing some improvement now that the Minister of Sports Mark Scotland has come on board, but we need the Minister of Education, Rolston Anglin, and the schools to fully support the meet.
“The athletes need to go to a higher level,” he said. “We need to move away from the cultural approach of recreational games.
“When you go to see the Inter-Primary Schools Championships you see tough competition, as well as recreational.
“Are you telling me that from primary school to secondary they get lazy? Or as they get older they don’t care anymore?
“Or is there more effort in the primary schools than secondary ones? I cannot tell you the answer but something is not right. From my perspective that level of performance is not there at secondary school level.”
The primary championships are this week, on Thursday and Friday, 21 and 22 March, at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex.
Walter is perturbed that kids drop off from sport when they go to high school.
He said: “Primary school is where they identify the talent. Higher school level is where there should be development of the talent and when they reach college it is when they reach high performance.”
Watler appreciates that not all schools have a coach who can specialise in track, but he is prepared to provide one at least once a week for lessons. Physical education teachers are limited to following the school curriculum.
“Even if some students are doing netball and within that group there are four or five athletes who want to also do track and field, by all means, bring them to the track coach and we will teach them while they are playing netball,” Watler said.
He feels that there should be a strategic approach with a marketing plan. He wants to find companies that can support each school with a coach, uniform and for every aspect of track and field development.
He only sees this working if there is strong support from the schools, parents, community generally and sports associations.
“If there is not a reinforcement from these agencies then we are basically just doing recreational activities,” he said. “Recreational activities are good, however competitive sport is better.”
Walter knows that the imminent visit of Bolt will help pique interest in track amongst Cayman youngsters. The announcement of the world’s fastest man’s involvement two weeks ago quickly sent a buzz around the islands.
“I am very excited that Cydonie’s company is bringing Bolt to the Cayman Islands,” Walter said. “I believe he will propel track and field to a better place.
“It will be very significant for the country and the athletes because it will be inspirational for them.”
He would like to see a junior invitational to maintain interest.
Watler also feels that when athletes of such a high calibre appear here, locals feel intimidated and some cannot even overcome their nerves to compete at the same meet in front of a huge crowd and media spotlight.
“They need to be exposed more in smaller meets,” he said.