Juggling act ... junior athletes balancing books and sport
As athletics-crazy Jamaica begins its zoom on the 105th Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Grace-Kennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships at the National Stadium today, one of the country's elite junior athletic coaches dismissed as myth the suggestion that some of the youngsters playing sports are incapable of balancing their academic work and sports.
Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, days ahead of the five-day championships, Maurice Wilson, former 10-time successful Holmwood Technical track coach, now a lecturer at G.C. Foster College, said it is not true that all the athletes are not balancing the books as well as their schoolwork.
"That is not true. Certainly, it's not true in all instances. For at Holmwood, I can recall we have girls with 10 subjects, and it's not just one girl. Others who have qualified for sixth form and were full-time members of the track programme," Wilson told the group of reporters and editors.
According to him, youngsters were also qualifying for tertiary institutions after completing sixth form and continuing their athletics programme.
Holmwood, introduced its sixth-from programme in 2003, and girls performing for the school during the years of former standout Anneisha McLaughlin were beneficiaries of a sixth-form programme, which included technical and vocational areas to provide skill training at that level.
Wilson said Holmwood held classes for remedial students, and they were not necessarily athletes.
"There is this concept that once you play sports, there is the need for remedial lessons. What I can tell you that in the last five years, the Head Girls coming from Holmwood have been persons from the track team. Jenieve Russell is a case in point. The World Junior gold medallist in the hurdles went to UTech with 10 subjects," Wilson told the meeting.
In the last five years, he said the average student leaving Holmwood as Head Girl left with 10 subjects. He said the negative perception was wrong.
Some of the more well-known schools - known equally for their academic prowess as well as sporting talents - including Wolmer's Boys' and Girls, Kingston College, Calabar, St Andrew High, Immaculate inter alia, have provided young male and female athletes who have progressed directly from fifth to sixth form with multiple subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC), including subjects taken and passed in grade 10.
Young Wolmer's Boys' School hurdling sensation' Jaheel Hyde' is one such, currently attending sixth form at the Heroes' Circle-based institution.
According to him, numerous others have achieved external examination successes, completed sixth form and opted to remain in Jamaica, qualifying for tertiary institutions such as the University of Technology (UTech) and the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Several schools have instituted mandatory extra lessons and homework programmes, specially designed for athletes to assist them to capture hours lost in training for sporting programmes.
But even if the children were unable to manage academically, the Ministry of Education has urged principals to use discretion in selecting them for participation in sporting events.
According to the Ministry of Education, the primary goal of schools should be that of academic and technical education, to develop the students' knowledge, understanding and skills, so they can maximise their full potential.
The ministry acknowledged that while academics should be the central focus, schools must prepare students to become useful citizens, maximising on their physical, spiritual, social, and cultural development.