No extra year for final-year students - Top coaches rejects calls for adjustments to Champs age limit due to virus setback
DESPITE THE disruption of the local high-school athletics season due to COVID-19, two of the island’s top coaches have voiced their disagreement with suggestions that the age of eligibility be extended to give final-year student athletes an opportunity to compete next season, particularly at Champs.
Today would have marked the start of the 110th ISSA-GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletic Championships.
The event was, however, cancelled on March 10 in response to Jamaica’s first cases of the coronavirus disease. Its cancellation, in addition to that of the Penn Relays and the uncertainty around the Carifta Games and World Athletics Under-20 Championships, has effectively ended the junior track-and-field season, adding to the ongoing paralysis of the sporting world due to the pandemic.
Among the stakeholders affected are student athletes in their final year of eligibility for Champs, a major platform for potential scholarships and other opportunities.
Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) rules dictate that no student beyond the age of 19 can compete in sporting competition. However, with some final-year students possibly missing out on scholarship opportunities due to the interrupted season, some observers have called for consideration to be given to extending the age-eligibility requirements.
However, head coach of reigning boys champions Kingston College, Leaford Grant, said that although their high-school careers ended unexpectedly, he does not support granting an additional year to facilitate final-year student athletes competing at Champs next year.
“I can’t see how that is possible, because your natural school age finishes at age 19. So you couldn’t ask youngsters to stay above that,” Grant told The Gleaner. “They would now have to go on to university, and they will have to get their degrees, and they will have to go and try to develop their own livelihood. You can’t, because of Champs, you are asking a youth to (compete in that way). It is unfair to the youngsters. When school is finished, it’s finished.”
Grant said that the students’ future have to be protected with respect to their collegiate opportunities, pointing to a policy in which a student could be denied his first year of eligibility for competition in the US collegiate system if they repeat their final year of sixth form, which translates to the 13th grade in the American education system.
“We would have to be careful now, because there is a new rule in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) that says that if a student repeats 13th grade, he might lose his first year of eligibility. We don’t want to hamper our youngsters’ future unless their parents agree,” Grant said.
Michael Dyke, head coach of reigning girls champions Edwin Allen, said that while he would not oppose to giving those final-year students a chance to compete next year, he agrees with Grant that ‘overage’ athletes should not be allowed to compete in a high-school setting.
“I really don’t believe that we should be allowing 20-year-olds or 21-year-olds to be competing in high-school competition. Even though I would support it, I don’t think that it would be possible based on the age factor,” Dyke said. “Because then, you would have to allow all of those students back in high-school for a year, which I don’t think will go down with a lot of the administration in school.”
When contacted on the matter, ISSA President Keith Wellington said that his administration hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss the matter or the way forward for next year’s competition.