Eastern area feels neglected ... coaches point to talent drain
Since Digicel came on board and organised the regional athletic championships into a series, The Digicel Grand Prix Series, it has become very apparent that schools in the eastern region are miles behind their counterparts in terms of high-quality performances in track and field.
This reason has caused organisers of the grand prix series to reduce the number of automatic qualifiers from each regional championship to the Grand Prix Final from two entrances per event to one with next best, one of the main organisers, Ricardo Martin, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Some of the regions are better than others, and, last year, we saw that there were some major gaps in some events, and what we want is competitive performances so we have one automatic qualifier from each event coming from each region and the next fastest times or best throws," Martin explained.
The disparity has also been a major concern for coaches of schools who participate in the Eastern Athletics Championships as they were quick to point out that it was not a lack of ability on their part, but simply not being given the opportunity to harness their talents.
"We have athletes, but they leave," AndrÈ Anderson, coach of the Morant Bay High School, said. "Retention is our biggest problem here in the eastern area. I could name quite a number of prominent athletes, now at different schools, who started out with us, so there is a talent drain."
One of those athletes is Kimara Francis, who won the 400m for Class Two girls at the ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships last year for St Jago High School.
"Francis was one of my athletes at Seaforth High, but as soon as they show good signs, the big schools come in and take them away," Anderson said.
Anderson also admitted that limited resources is also one of the reasons eastern schools aren't as prolific at harnessing talents as other regions, hence some of the athletes seeking greener pastures.
"I think the principals have to get serious also and make some investments because many of our schools do not have a field to train on much less a gym," Anderson said.
Coach of St Thomas Technical High School Ryon Patterson said that another reason why the eastern area is far behind their counterparts is because its coaches have been forgotten by the JAAA when it comes to their development.
"Despite what JAAA says about developing track and field, whenever IAAF Level 1 or 2 coaching courses come around, a few or no coaches from the eastern regions are in it," Patterson said. "I remember when I did mine, I was the only one from the eastern region who was in a class of 24."
Patterson said that these problems will have to be addressed for eastern schools to become competitive again.
"We have athletes like Hansel Parchment and Carrie Russell, who are products of programmes in the east, who went on to represent the country at the senior level, but these things will have to be addressed if anyone is going to have a serious programme to compete with those bigger schools," Patterson said.
Since St Mary High School topped Girls' Championships in 1976 and 1977, no school from the eastern region has been prolific at producing athletes on a yearly basis that can compete with the best in the island.