Mark Wignall | No game for my bright son
The man was hopping mad. His voice on the other end of the phone reflected that state. His son had been attending a school whose name he didn't want called because he, too, had been a student there in his high-school days. Loyalty.
It was one of the big four high schools which had attained sporting-glory status (Kingston College, Jamaica College, St George's and Calabar). He was calling me, he said, to add another layer to my Sunday column titled, 'High schools or sporting academies.'
'My boy arrives there and, as a strong student in prep school, he is immediately right off the mark in maintaining those strong academic standards. But he likes football and always said he would like to represent his school at Manning Cup.
"He plays in all the age leagues in school. For a while he falters academically, and I speak to his football coach and tell him that I am pulling my boy out to allow him adequate time to catch up back on his books.
"The turnaround comes, but he wants to pass his exams in order to enter 11th grade. He still practises occasionally so he knows that he is Manning Cup potential and would likely get picked should he restart a training regimen.
"He enters sixth form and signals that he wants to restart. The coach tells him disdainfully that the team is already picked. To my surprise, it also includes boys who were transferred from other lesser known schools and were attending ... for less than a year in some instances."
"So, he is punished for making the perfect blend of what a high school should be. Striving for high academic standards while indulging his love for an athletic pursuit," I say to him.
"Yes. Definitely. This is the sad part. Because my boy is doing so well academically and he wants the chance to play Manning Cup. I transfer him to ... knowing that his form would get him team placement there. It felt so strange me going to matches and cheering for a school that had been one of our fiercest rivals."
On Wednesday when I spoke to Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham, the architect supporting a 180-degree turn in sport recruitment in high schools, he said, "Our schools must stop importing performance-enhancing students for sports, just as we do not expect our youngsters to take performance-enhancing drugs. This deviant behaviour in our schools must no longer be the norm. We must stop using sports prowess to move students up the academic scale. That represents a double standard."
NOT A BIG CONCERN
Sadly, 'up the academic scale' seems not to be a big concern for coaches, seemingly having their own ways either with the support of the respective principals and the school boards or empowerment by convenient blind eye.
Apart from the obvious, that this policy of sports recruitment has support in Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), in the investigations that I conducted over the last five weeks, I was able to determine that it suits the big four schools and their connections in ISSA to create a situation where there is fierce competition among a few at the top instead of building equity right across the entire high school spectrum. Fierce competition builds the fatted cow.
It seems to me that the real beneficiary of this system which preys on the plight of poor households and their children is ISSA. It may benefit the youngster for a brief time when the recruiting high school pays his full way and doles out sweetened porridge to his poor parents.
With the sole focus being on his skills with his feet, the odds against him reaching Olympic level and a chance to earn big bucks, it is more than likely that within five to seven years the youngster, not having had the benefit of a rounded education, is out on the streets practising to become just another unimportant sideline of history. Or worse, a data point on the criminal blotters.
Deep-pocketed old boys sometimes operate independently outside of their associations. Many do good things on behalf of their alma maters. Some are just in it to live vicariously through a young pair of legs providing them with entertainment as they enjoy their successes in life.