Mon | Feb 17, 2020

Orville Taylor | Don't disrespect schoolboy sport tradition

Published:Monday | March 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Calabar High and Kingston College in a close battle during a 4x400m clash at the 2015 Boys and Girls’ Championships.

Being a St George's College alumnus, one might believe that any comment I might want to make on schoolboy athletics is outside of my lane. Worse, coming from last year's ISSA GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs), the opinion of any Georgian would easily seem 'pointless', unless, of course, football is introduced as a field event.

Yet, as we sacrifice civility and mutual respect at the altar of bragging rights of men who seem to forget that they had their five or seven years to make their own mark on their schools, we lose sight of deep history and sociology. There is such insidious tribalism among some zealots of the high school clans that I ask myself: "What kind of fathers are they, and do they pass on the boorish bigotry to their sons? After all, if sensible old boys and principals do not step in and nip it, it will have disastrous consequences later as we build the next generation of leaders.

A few weeks ago, at a meet honouring the man who internationalised Jamaican schoolboy track and field, Herb McKenley, my cousin school Kingston College (KC) sent a team that was so weak, it could serve as a good excuse for not appointing the chief justice a month ago. It was a set of boys, with no noted star-quality senior athletes. In the end, it was a token representation, and any reasonable man, Calabarite or not, would logically feel that KC 'dissed' the programme. For me, given the stature of McKenley, a meet in his honour needed to always see the best, or at least a good showing.

And here is where history provides uncomfortable truths. McKenley is perhaps singly the most important person who opened the door for Jamaican schoolboys' dominance of the Penn Relays. The all-conquering KC 4x110 yard relay team of 1964 that kicked open the door was the brainchild of McKenley. His eyes were not on Calabar. One can ungraciously remark that it was because KC was simply the best Jamaican team, and one might be right. However, what is important is that he saw beyond parochialism. In fact, if one digs just a little below the surface, one will find a bit of method behind this madness. You see, young McKenley went to the USA on a track scholarship and attended Boston College. One more dose of the anti-ignorance vaccine and it becomes logical that this Catholic Jesuit institution had a Georgian connection. Indeed, Father O'Hare, for whom the first edifice on the Winchester Park campus is named, is the warm body who procured the scholarship for Calabarite McKenley. Therefore, the Jesuit ethic of being one's brother's keeper, self-sacrifice, and looking out for the less fortunate played a big part in McKenley's, and thus, Jamaica's track and field journey. KC owes McKenley.

It is the same Jesuit values which the most revered Percival Gibson learned at St George's and which led him, along with his sister, to found KC. As unpleasant as it might be, KC has Georgian DNA, and Gibson would have wanted to see all of the values he espoused tempered with civility and decorum, even as his KC descendants stand brave and unyielding.

Both Gibson and McKenley would puke black, green and purple over the apparent disrepute that both Calabar and KC seem to be taking schoolboy track and field into by not sending teams to the Calabar Event and the Gibson-McCook relays.




For the record, it is sheer disingenuity that some factions are claiming that Gibson-McCook is not a KC event. Ask those who organise it, whose colours it features, whose crest has been on the programme over the decades, and who controls the finances.

Yet, there is another set of explanations that requires some investigation. Among the excuses for the no-shows is the addition of a new set of competitions sponsored by a telecommunications company.

This reportedly increases the strain on the athletes, therefore forcing coaches to make judicious use of the still-developing children without damaging them for the future. In principle, there is everything right with this. This assumes that the absence of Calabar from the second most prestigious schoolboy track and field event is essentially due to the increased workload, and not a recriminating act of revenge being a soup drunk cold.

And here, let me be unambiguous. Even if it is the case that KC intentionally scorned the patrons of the Calabar meet, the tit-for-tat lesson would be precisely what the professors at Boston College would have told McKenley and those who honour him to avoid. Teaching schoolboys to be vindictive and petty does nothing for their character, and may very well further harm a very violent and divided nation when these young men take leadership of the little rock of wood, water, politics and homicide.

Nonetheless, this might be the moment when I accept the wisdom of my KC friends with whom I ate hundreds of patties with suspect fillings and ready-peeled oranges from a man who knew nothing about other types of fillings. When KC lost in the traditional prestigious Manning Cup in November 2017, and won the FLOW Super Cup and the king's ransom of $1 million, 1/20th of the amount donated to reconstruct the entrance that opens up to the O'Hare building, there was a group of zealots who felt that the money made the cup more valuable than the traditional Manning trophy. Of course, having seen St George's in exactly the same situation in 2015, I understand the lingering acridity of a particular violet fruit.

By the same rationale, the perfectly justifiable argument was that tradition meant little in the face of the newly introduced Digicel Grand Prix, which, like the Super Cup, had money, and rather than a single track meet, judged the performance over several competitions, thus, theoretically, making the champion of the series the de facto best team in schoolboy track and field.

Whatever the final (il)logic, the diminishing of the value of the traditional trophies and the absence of a flagship school from premier events do more harm than good, and the headmasters need to fix it now. The old boys had their chance; it is not about them.