The Impact Of Eastern Champs
The absence of Eastern Championships from the 2016 high school athletics calendar is cause for concern. It comes at a time when teams from that end of the island are on the rise. For teams like Buff Bay High and St Mary High, Eastern Champs might have been a stepping stone to strong performances at the ISSA-GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships.
St Mary High is the last eastern school to win a Champs title, if you discount the win by the boys of St Jago High in 1987, which came in a period when ISSA moved the Spanish Town school from Central Champs to Eastern Champs and back. With athletes of the calibre of schoolgirl Olympian Jackie Pusey and the speedy Doreen Small, St Mary High won Girls' Champs in 1976 and 1977.
Since then, the results of eastern schools at Champs make grim reading. Only Morant Bay High School had made the top ten since 2000, with a seventh-place finish for the boys and their female teammates reaching 10th in 2004. In fact, the alma mater of Olympic medal winners Juliet Cuthbert and Hansle Parchment has been the highest-placed eastern school at Champs more than any other from that region.
Besides those top ten finishes, Morant Bay High has ten other top-15 placings in the 2000 - 2015 period. The closest any other eastern school has come to the Championships top ten is the 2013 12th place finish by former giants St Mary High.
Concerted action seems to be needed to strengthen athletics in the region.
Despite all that, Eastern Champs is well worth saving. Cuthbert and Parchment are only two of a long list of national senior representatives who competed for schools from the East. Rosie Allwood, Nikole Mitchell, Percival Spencer, Lelieth Hodges, Carrie Russell, Wilbert Walker, a 2004 triple Champs gold medallist for Morant Bay, and Javere Bell, all emerged there, with Bell's 2011 Class One 400 triumph for Seaforth High garnering the last Boys' Champs gold medal to be taken eastward.
Fiona Richards of Buff Bay exemplified her school's recent rise with a Class Two discus and shot put double at Champs last year. Before her, the last winner from the east was Orethia Powell of Morant Bay in the 2006 Class Four long jump. Fittingly, Buff Bay were the highest-placed eastern school on both sides of the gender fence at Champs in 20th (girls) and 16th (boys).
The simultaneous disappearance of Eastern Champs and the long-running Howard Jackson Morant Bay Relays from the 2016 schedule may have been caused by the tight financial environment. Their absence removes opportunities for student athletes to put their talent on show and enjoy an extra-curricular activity with proven benefits of exposure, exercise and tertiary educational possibilities. The sooner Eastern Champs returns, the better.
- Hubert Lawrence has attended Champs since 1980.