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Editorial | Now that there is also Saymar Ramsay

Published:Tuesday | November 8, 2016 | 11:00 AM

It was merely six weeks ago that Jamaica was swept up in the grief of the on-field collapse and sudden death of 17-year-old St George's College footballer Dominic James. He was the team's star and captain, who apparently also did well at his academic work at one of Jamaica's more prestigious high schools.

Not too much is known about, or has been made of, Saymar Ramsay. He attended Spot Valley High School in St James, where a third of students don't attend regularly, the majority of them enter without the appropriate readiness for secondary education, and up to 80 per cent leave, according to education ministry analysis, without attaining "the expected levels in their literacy skill development by grade 11"; although some make "satisfactory ability-level progress in their lessons".

But Dominic James and Saymar Ramsay had something in common: Both were 17. Both played sport - in Saymar's case, basketball. Both met unexpectedly tragic deaths when they would normally be presumed to be in the pink of health as student athletes. Last Friday, returning from an Under-19 basketball match at Cornwall College in Montego Bay, Saymar collapsed. He died later while being treated.

Dominic and Saymar are believed to have suffered from heart attacks, or heart-related conditions.

Both, at the time of death, were participating in competitions sponsored by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA).

Such deaths do happen. And as we said at the time of Dominic James' passing, others will occur. The question we posited at the time was what is being done to reduce their likelihood, apart from improving the emergency-response capacity at venues where organised sporting competitions are played.

This newspaper has not heard a cogent or satisfactory response from either ISSA or the education ministry, which is not to claim that one has not been attempted or that these bodies don't have embryonic ideas which are yet to be fully formulated and rolled out.

The matter, however, is important, given the volume of organised school-level sport that is played in Jamaica, especially football and track and field athletics. Indeed, the school system is the foundation of Jamaica's global prowess in athletics and, perhaps, in no other country is competition at that level as fiercely competitive and as organised as here.

 

SCREENING NEEDED

 

It is against that backdrop that we reiterate our earlier calls for the screening of young athletes, especially those who engage in organised sports, for congenital or other conditions that might be exacerbated by intense physical exercise.

There are no known formal studies of the ratio of sudden death to participants of young Jamaican athletes. In the USA, it's between 0.5 to one per 100,000 athletes under 35. Such deaths are two and a half times more likely with children who play sports than non-athletes. Heart conditions are the major causes of these deaths.

However, in countries where the screening of young athletes in organised sport is mandatory, the deaths are substantially lower than in the US. Some American states are moving to make screening mandatory.

Jamaica ought to be thinking along such lines, an issue that was put on the agenda when a 17-year cross-country runner, Kaman McKenzie, competing for St Jago High School, died after an event in Trinidad and Tobago. In the absence of legislation, the Heart Foundation offered to work with schools on the matter. Cost, we are told, made the programme prohibitive.

But what price is life?