Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Paul Wright | Specialist schools

Published:Tuesday | March 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Student-athletes participating in a class-one 100m sprint at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships in March 2017.

The vexed issue of recruitment of athletically gifted children to 'sports schools' has gained a measure of validation by the story, authored by Akino Ming and published in this newspaper titled 'JAAA's Blake, Dyke back recruitment of student athletes'. In the report, the president of the governing body of athletics in Jamaica, Dr Warren Blake, is quoted as saying that "we (Jamaica) benefit from having athletes attend a specialist school- a school that does well in sports". I am intrigued by the term 'specialist schools'.

My idea of a specialist school is one that caters to the peculiar need of the proposed student population. A 'technical school' is a specialist school. A school for children with learning disabilities, is a 'specialist school'. I could go on.

A school is supposed to be an institution where parents send their children to be educated, not only on reading (w)riting and (a)rithmetic, but also (and most important) to learn skills that will enable them to be an asset to the country and themselves by being able to contribute positively to the society in which they are domiciled.

Sports is an integral and important part of this holistic education of our children.

In Jamaican schools, children with an outstanding ability at anything, are recruited simply to enable the school to win! What has happened to these 'specialist schools' that recruit to win is that when you compare the ranking of these schools that win at sports, with those whose children do well academically, the gap is frightening. Perennial winners of Champs, Manning Cup, and et cetera, rank surprisingly low when compared with schools whose children seem to be able to get the bare minimum of five passes in a school leaving exam which include mathematics and english.

There seems to be a belief among some of our school coaches, past students and administrators that by going to school and 'winning' at inter-school competition, then 'you are set for life', as matching the millions earned by Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown is just around the corner. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is only a small percentage of Jamaican athletes who, because of their athletic talent and skill, earn enough money to support themselves and their families for life.


Stars fade away


The majority of our local sport stars fade away in dramatic fashion in competition on the world stage where big bucks can be commanded. Further, what happens when the child's sporting career is over? Very few sport stars can compete reasonably well after the age of 32. It is at this stage that the lessons learnt in school become vital in the quest to live comfortably.

Recruiting has also been demonised by the coaches and administrators of the schools from whence these sport stars came. These children usually have their special skill and talent recognised by a coach or a teacher at a particular school only to have that child recruited to a 'sport school' ostensibly to allow the child to develop athletically, but in reality to enable the recruiting school to win. Woe betide the child so recruited who suffers an injury. Children with "minor" injuries are encouraged/enticed to 'run through the pain' , not realising that recurring minor injuries can become major injuries if rest and rehabilitation are compromised in the quest for points.

Those children who are recruited and suffer a major injury, suddenly find that once it is determined that their skill and talent is no longer available to his or her new school, ALL the perks and enticements offered at the time of transfer suddenly and amazingly disappear. Another negative of recruitment for sports has surfaced with the amazing confession of a recruiter who stated that his school recruits to ensure that another school is deprived of the talent of the child so that the chances of winning at sports is enhanced. Therefore you have four or five children with a particular skill recruited when only two are able to compete at inter-school competition. Thus the recruited child can only be a 'reserve' at his or her new school, compared to be a definite starter or competitor, if allowed to remain at the school where his or her talent was identified.

This island of ours needs to be reminded that Bolt and Powell were not recruited as children, but were nurtured and developed by schools with absolutely no historical pedigree for providing this nation with world sport stars. Look at them now.

Although the governing body of high-school sports, ISSA, has recognised that recruitment of children with sport skills is wrong and detrimental to the overall development of our children, there are still some schools where this practice is a regular occurrence.

I long for the day when a study is made of every recruited child, and their status in life AFTER school. The findings will determine if this blatant exploitation of children, who are bought and sold like commodities, is in the best interest of the child, or the best interest of the school and/ or coach.