American football to be launched in schools
At a Superbowl in the near future, Jamaicans could be cheering on home-grown talent who learned the game right in Jamaica at their local high school, before going on to play professionally in the United States.
At least, that is the vision of the Ministry of Youth, Education and Information in partnership with the Jamaican American Athletic Development Inc (JAMAAD), a United States-based non-profit organisation with an all Jamaican board of directors.
JAMAAD was founded in 2015 by Atlanta-based Jamaica-born attorney, Nicole Hoyen-Birch, who attended St George's Girls Primary School in downtown Kingston. Their website - www.jamaadsports.com - states their mission as "helping Jamaica's at-risk youth gain access to opportunities for advancement through American sports".
The other board members are Zachary Harding, CEO, Hyperion Equity; David Panton, chairman and CEO, Panton Capital Partners; Bindley Sangster Jr, regional manager, Panasonic Corps; Soyini Ma'at, founder/executive director, Bright Learning Academy; and Christopher Stewart, branch manager, Prime Mortgage Lending Inc.
"The ministry will be rolling out the pilot project across all parishes in Jamaica for the September 2017 school term. The initiative will be known as The Touchdown Project. A careful selection process was used to choose sixteen (16) schools in the first year, in order to facilitate a league format with eight (8) teams in each conference," Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid said.
The schools were chosen based on a number of criteria such as having a suitable playing field and being in the top 50 schools in terms of academic performance; any child from the parish can play for the team, and the school will act as the home base for that parish.
"This decision was taken deliberately in order to make the programme accessible to all high school students across the country. The students must be performing at a certain academic standard in order to be eligible to participate, as it is a 'student-athlete' programme," Senator Reid explained.
According to Nicole Hoyen-Birch, the primary objective of the Touchdown Project is to access scholarship opportunities for students to further their education in the United States, with some hopefully going on to play the game professionally. In 2016 alone, US colleges awarded over US$3 billion in athletic scholarships. The sport that benefited the most was American football, with over 90,000 students receiving scholarships.
Jamaicans are known worldwide for their speed. American football coaches recruit players based on a number of criteria including speed, intelligence, strength, and agility. The idea is for Jamaican teenage boys to be taught the rudiments and disciplines of the game, and develop an appreciation for the sport, paving the way for the recruitment of Jamaican students to American schools to play the game. This would provide a new set of opportunities for academic, social and professional advancement, in turn, having a measurable impact on the local economy.
CERTIFICATION AND TRAINING
Coaches at each school will receive certification and training in American football and work with renowned American coaches and professionals. The primary objective in phase one will be to introduce Jamaican coaches to the game of American Football, focusing on the basic principles and rules. In phase two, the Jamaican coaches will then pass on this knowledge to interested students and host fitness and agility camps to recruit potential players. These players will begin practicing and doing drills in a non-contact format, otherwise known as flag football, before advancing to the full contact version of the game using proper equipment.
Every child will be fully equipped with the necessary clothing and protective gear. There will be no cost to the Government of Jamaica or the participating schools as the programme will be fully sponsored by JAMAAD and its affiliates. Sporting giant Nike has already shown an interest in getting on board in a major way and members of the Jamaican diaspora have agreed to sponsor certain aspects of the programme.