On November 20, eight of Jamaica's top coaches and administrators in track and field were honoured by the Gleaner Company, being designated theGleaner's 'Man of the Year', in recognition of their services.
In a subsequent Gleaner Editors' Forum, five of the honourees - Neville 'Teddy' McCook, Mike Fennel, Dennis Johnson, Maurice Wilson, and Glenn Mills - shared their personal experiences and perspectives on coaching and sports administration in Jamaica.
Yesterday, three administrators were highlighted, and, today, we feature coaches Maurice Wilson and Glenn Mills.
Coach Maurice Wilson. - photo by Andrew Smith/Photography Editor
Maurice Wilson, one of the bright, young success stories in local track and field coaching, developed an early interest in the field when, at age seven, his mother presented him with a book on the lives of Jamaican athletic stars.
This whetted his appetite for the sport and so he got involved at primary school.
Then it was on to Ferncourt High School where, unfortunately, a 'life-threatening injury' cut short his participation as an athlete.
This did not dim his interest, however, with the result that, after graduating from Mico Teachers' College, he returned to his alma mater,Ferncourt, where he took up the job as track and field coach.
Picking up pointers
A daunting task it was for the rookie coach whose school was usually among the 'also-rans' at Boys' and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium.
"When we got to Champs, we would sit and watch Kingston College and Calabar and Camper-down and wait for the 5,000 (metres) to score!" he recalled, laughing.
But the young coach made good use of those hours at champs.
While he waited for his school to pick up its single point towards the end, he was also busy picking up valuable pointers from the more experienced coaches.
With that early baptism of fire, he was encouraged to attend G. C. Foster College of Physical Edu-cation and Sport, where he completed a level one coaching programme.
Armed with his new certification, he moved to Clarendon College, where he continued to hone his skills and see to the improvement of that school's performances, moving from not winning a point the year he got there to being named the most improved team one year later.
The stint at Clarendon prepared him for his next move, in 1996, to Holmwood Technical High in Manchester.
Ten years later, as head coach for the girls' programme at Holmwood, Coach Wilson boasts an enviable record.
He started with 11th place in the Girls' Championship in his first year. A period of steady progression culminated in victory in 2003.
The girls have not lost that status since, winning four years in a row.
Reflecting on those 10 years, Mr. Wilson disclosed that, at the outset, he decided that if he was going to stay for the long haul, it could not be an ordinary programme. The upshot of that bold assertion was the development of what he now terms "a little programme by the name of Vision 2000".
This vision included a plan to broaden the range of track events from the middle distances to include the sprints and hurdles. The audacity of that plan was underlined by the fact that the school did not possess even one hurdle!
But some potential benefactors were obviously waiting to provide tangible support. One of those barriers was soon cleared with a donation of 20 new hurdles, and another 20 for training purposes.
Support also came in the form of an adopt-an-athlete programme, and nutritional support for the athletes, ranging from highly-enriched processed foods from corporate sponsors to the more traditional rural gift of a squealing piglet tucked under a farmer's arm!
Today, Coach Maurice Wilson is an integral part of the national track and field programme, a far cry from his early days, eavesdropping on the conversations of his more cele-brated colleagues to learn vital lessons in the art of coaching.
At Holmwood, he is known to have produced several quality junior athletes including Anneisha McLaughlin, Sonita Sutherland and Sheryl Morgan.
Coach Glen Mills. - photo by Andrew Smith/Photography Editor
Glen Mills actually began coaching as a schoolboy at Camperdown High!
Entering the school at age 13, young Glen fancied himself as a speedster on the track.
It was apparently all in the mind, however, as by the end of that first track season, he had abandoned his sprinting ambitions, convinced that this was not his destiny.
That did not end his fascination with track and field, however, as he continued to turn up at the field to observe the others in training.
The obvious interest shown by the youngster did not go unnoticed by the coach who, one day, summoned him over with a query: "Come here little man. I see you here every evening and you are not training any more. Why?"
Upon hearing the young boy's story of disillusionment, the coach, Henry McDonald Messam (also an attorney-at-law), promptly declared "You know what, you be my assistant!"
So, at age 14, at least in his own mind, Glen Mills was now, officially, a coach!
He started out keeping the register and doing other small chores assigned by the senior coach.
By fourth form, however, he had taken over the coaching of the Class Three boys. He grew into the job and, after graduating, remained at Camperdown as part of the coaching staff.
That reportedly did not sit well with the new sportsmaster who assigned the job of coaching the track and field team to a more experienced coach.
However, most of the better athletes defected to Mills' unofficial off-campus training camp, thereby forcing the school to give in to their demands that he be allowed to resume duties at the school.
Such was the growing reputation of the young coach, Glen Mills, at Camperdown - the 'sprint factory'- that by the early 1970s, he was invited to join the national coaching programme.
"At Camperdown, we used to supply the national junior team with at least 50 per cent of the male sprinters and the JAAA selected
me sometime around the early '70s to be one of the coaches of the Carifta team," he explained.
At Camperdown, Mills produced several outstanding sprinters. The best of them was Raymond Stewart who, weeks after leaving school, reached the men's 100m final at the Los Angeles Olympics. He later anchored the men's 4x100m to a silver medal. Stewart went on to reach two other Olympic 100m finals.
Mills also coached former national representatives Leroy Reid, Garfield Campbell and Carey Johnson.
During his career, Mills has received diplomas from the International Olympic Committee training centre in Mexico and High-Level Sprint Tech training at the IAAF Training Centre in Puerto Rico.
Today, as national senior team coach for Jamaica to the Olympics and other major games and championships, Mills has come a far way from those early days.
Speaking with the wisdom of his years in the field, Coach Mills continues to entreat Jamaican fans to be more appreciative of the achievements of the country's athletes.
"We can always win more medals but one has to be practical. Jamaica stands at about number three in the world in sprinting. That's extraordinary!" he asserted.
Investing in sports
To win more medals, he contends, the country must invest more money in the athletics programme. By investing ade-quately in track and field, he contends, Jamaica could double its average medal count at the top meets in short order.
He is not just thinking of the traditional sprint events, however, pointing out that there is an emerging trend towards being in contention for medals in disciplines such as the shot putt, and the decathlon.
In addition to his national duties, Mills is now coaching a growing list of world-class athletes including Usain Bolt, Aleen Bailey, and Xavier Brown. He also coached Kim Collins (former 100m World Champion) for several years.
Not bad for a boy who gave up his early ambitions to be a sprinter.
Early recognition of one lim-itation gave way to a career of seemingly limitless possibilities.