Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Change, young professionals and the Penn Relays

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2015 | 12:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Wolmer's Jaheel Hyde (left) and Calabar's Michael O'Hara match strides as they head down the track in the final of the Class One boys' 110m hurdles at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday, March 28.
Usain Bolt (right) and former Kingston College sprinter André Wellington at Champs.
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A monumental change started in 2003. That's when Usain Bolt decided to forego his two remaining years of Boys and Girls' Champs eligibility to become a professional athlete. On top of that, Bolt chose to stay at home to train for his senior careers.

It was a remarkable turnaround. Before then and all the way back to Herb McKenley's departure on a track scholarship to Boston College in 1942, it was a given that graduating high school prospects would head to the United States (US) for collegiate study, training and competition.

That change started sneaking up when the MVP Track Club started world-class training at the University of Technology in 1999.

Change is upon us again. The emergence of professionals in the high-school ranks is forcing a new look at the laws that govern high-school sport.

Do professionals have an unfair advantage over student-athletes who depend solely on the resources of their school and their families, or should needy families be free to accept help from agents and sponsors without losing high-school eligibility?

 

Rules are essential

 

Elsewhere in the world, those lines are drawn clearly. The question facing us in Jamaica is whether our situation, athletically and financially, is sufficiently different that our rules should be different. Whatever the answer, one thing is certain. Rules of engagement are needed for this new state of play.

It's a new day. Next week, Calabar and Wolmers' Boys' go to the Penn Relays without key team members. The surrounding discussion has raised arguments about whether Jamaica still needs the Penn Relays experience.

For the large body of Jamaican student-athletes who compete at Penn, it's their first experience in variable weather and with overseas travel. That's still valuable, even if US college scouts now often come to Champs and the Carifta Games.

More than that, it is still the place where the non-star athlete can clinch a scholarship. That's a ticket to a free college education. That's still valuable, 50-odd years after the first Jamaican high schools went to compete inside Penn's Franklin Field.

Beyond that, US-based Jamaicans look forward annually to their taste of Champs and of the Olympics and the World Championships. Penn is where our prowess in track and field is on their adopted doorstep. Skipping the century-old relay carnival won't help those fans.

Jamaica, nevertheless, has fine teams heading for Franklin Field next week. Amongst those on centre stage will be Neville Myton, who won the Penn Relay Open mile when Excelsior debuted there 50 years ago. His victory in 1965 is another milestone worth celebrating.

n Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.