Recruiting killing champs - Riley
"The annual Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys & Girls' Athletic Championships is dying a slow death, and a major part of this could be attributed to the recruiting of student-athletes from small schools to larger ones," president of the Jamaica Track & Field Coaches Association (JATAFCA) David Riley says.
"ISSA needs to regulate it (recruiting) or else they are going to kill the sport," Riley told The Gleaner yesterday.
JATAFCA has taken objection to several proposed changes to the rules governing athlete participation in the annual Champs, generally considered to be the largest high-school athletics championships in the Western Hemisphere.
The proposals were made by ISSA's technical committee mid-2016.
"The technical committee, in their review of 2016 Champs in June, had some ideas for changes. Those changes were made public in September as recommendations, so in September, they sent out a communication to the schools about the proposed changes," Riley explained.
One change, for instance, would see the scrapping of the Boys Open 400m hurdles. The record in that event of 49.01 seconds is held by World Junior Champion Jaheel Hyde.
Instead, the proposed events would be a Class One Boys and Class Two Boys 400m hurdles.
"There are a lot of impacts that are not being considered. If you haven't thought about the fact that Jaheel Hyde's record would be off the books, then you haven't given it enough thought," Riley said.
While the coaches met with ISSA in December, voicing their objections, Riley, who is head coach of Excelsior High School's track programme, said that they have had no word on whether their suggestions were accepted.
ISSA principals are due to meet later this month on the changes, which would be implemented in time for Champs 2017, which begins on March 28.
"On January 6, ISSA's executive committee met and formalised the proposed changes which will go to the principals to be voted on later this month," Riley said, adding that many of the principals who have a vote have no teams participating in Champs.
Riley, however, noted that the problems run deeper than simple changes and that ISSA needs to examine the real issues.
He told The Gleaner that his association polled high-school coaches in late 2015, and while 43 per cent of them said that they had better quality athletes and larger squads from which to choose athletes for the five-day meet, most also said that they would be taking smaller squads to Champs.
A post on JATAFCA's Facebook, yesterday, pointed to the fact that despite several adjustments to the rules since then, 454 fewer athletes competed in Champs in 2016 than did in 2010.
"The meet is getting smaller, and they (ISSA) are missing that particular reality in the midst of the hype over contending schools," said Riley.
"They are presiding over a period of decline. They need to pause and do the analysis in terms of the decisions being made."
Riley believes that part of the problem is that many coaches from smaller schools have become discouraged as they see athletes they have groomed slowly being siphoned away by larger schools who use them to boost their ability to win Champs.
"The recruiting issue is what they (ISSA) need to take on head-on. A lot of coaches in small schools are feeling discouraged that they are losing their athletes.
"Our best senior athletes predominantly come from the small schools. So if you are implementing changes that are facilitating big schools, you are implementing a system that is killing small schools. So 10 years from now when you can't find any good hurdlers, or throwers or jumpers, you are going to wonder why. [It's because] they are not coming from the big programmes," Riley said.
While the big-school coaches are also members of the association, along with coaches of smaller schools, Riley added that the win is more important.
"They don't care. There are no rules," he said.
He noted that if 75 per cent of the ISSA principals vote in favour of the changes, they would be implemented.
The Gleaner reached out to ISSA president Dr Walton Small, but he did not respond.