The seventh edition of the Inter-Scholastic Track and Field Championships at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Feb. 10-12 was, from an organizational standpoint, the worst in the young history of the event. This is not to say that the previous six were much better. To be brutally honest, all seven editions have been organizational disasters but this year’s was arguably the worse of the lot.
This annual inability to start and complete the meet on time and to rigorously follow the prescribed schedule is bewildering. The decision by the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) to permit or fail to recognize that one school had entered two teams in a championship determined by points remains mind boggling. This almost brought the Meet to an abrupt halt on the second day. The inexplicable delays in the track events (a problem that has plagued CIAA events for the last three years) reached new depths this year.
The meet, which must form the cornerstone for development of this nationally mandated core sport, suffers from a number of conceptual and organizational flaws and defects that can and must be corrected in time for the staging of the 2016 version of the event.
First and foremost amongst these is that the championships must be owned, promoted and organized by the schools themselves. There was not one school representative on the LOC this year and if it is true, as stated at the technical meeting on the day preceding the start of the meet, then this unbelievable state of affairs has existed from the inception of the championships.
If this change is made, then it would be the schools’ decision as to what events they wish to compete in, the age or class categories in which they desire to compete. They would then be in a position to collectively seek and obtain corporate sponsorship for the meet. The concept of the schools owning the meet is not a novel one; it is used locally at the inter-primary level and more significantly it has been used for over 100 years in the organization of the most successful inter-high schools track and field championships in the world, staged annually in neighboring Jamaica.
Done this way, the muted criticism that the meet is used primarily as a CARIFTA Games qualifier and not a genuine schools championship would become redundant.
Secondly, this is not a three-day meet. Given the number of schools and events involved, this is a two-day championship if properly organized. The private high schools have shown that they can do over 100 events involving an almost equal number of schools in approximately four hours.
Thirdly, it must be realized by the powers that be that these championships in particular and inter-high school sports in general are a vital tool in the whole educational and nation building processes. To think otherwise is to subscribe to a debunked educational theory that academics and sports are poles apart and should not be accorded anything resembling equal treatment. For athletes, at any level, to perform at their best, they need an audience and not one consisting wholly of their athletic peers. Competing in a stadium bereft of their teachers, fellow students, friends, relatives and the general public and the atmosphere created by the presence of such persons is not indicative of true championships. To continue such a practice must be considered disrespectful not only to the student-athletes but also to the corporate sponsors of the meet.
Fourthly, the meet must have fixed dates on the schools and sporting calendars each year, for example, on a second or third Thursday and Friday in a given month. This will aid in the preparation of the student-athletes to compete to the best of their abilities.
Fifthly, thought must be given to the private schools competing as a unit at the meet. Currently the championships can only be won by either of the two public shools. Allowing the private schools to compete as a unit should make the meet much more competitive. A system similar to that which operated at the private schools championships last December lends itself to these championships.
Alternatively, the event winners at the private schools championships could then go on to represent the private schools as an entity at the inter-school meet.
The amazing thing is that in spite of the organizational nightmare that these championships have suffered from, the student-athletes have shown vast improvements in the relatively short eight years of competition. This year, a duo of just-turned-15-year-olds and one 14-year-old have threatened to run sub-11 seconds for the 100 meters; a 15-year-old girl has tossed the javelin over 40 meters and a number of the student-athletes have performed at a level that places them on the brink of world youth qualifying marks. A total of 37 new marks were established this year and in the likes of Taj Yen, Greg Bennett, Toriann Gonez, Ashantae Graham, Monique Gordon, Hannah Robinson, Jayden Francis, KC Gordon, Kashief Dawkins, Dejaughn Murray, Zayda Rankine, Shalysa Wray, Tatyana Martin, Pearl Morgan, Lacee Barnes, Kiera Mclaughlin, Daneliz Thomas, Gabriela Ritch, Lavon Watler, Lessario Ebanks, Isaiah Robinson, Karim Murray, Rashaun Conolly, Jeahvon Jackson, Leighton Thomas, and Jacob Scott lies a rich pool of promising athletes with talent aplenty to keep the Cayman Islands athletic flag flying high for a considerable time in the future. As a country, they and the other student-athletes now and in the future cannot be allowed to ‘’fall through the cracks.” Their talents must be harnessed and showcased for the benefit of the country and these championships provide an excellent opportunity for doing so. It cannot be allowed to fail due to mal- or mis- administration.
The real remedy lies with the teachers, the schools and their PTAs (or whatever it is called these days). They need to put pressure on the powers that be to take the necessary corrective measures and put this meet, and all inter-high school sports in general, on a proper organizational footing.
Failure to act now will mean a continuation of a great disservice to the youth of this country in general and the student-athlete in particular and makes a mockery of the concept of national core sports. The time for lip service is long past. It is now time for action.