Maurice Wilson, coach of Holmwood's girls. - file
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
THERE WERE few people brave enough to predict defeat for Holmwood Technical High School at the recent Girls Championships. Even fewer were surprised when the team from Manchester obliterated its opponents for an effortless victory.
The man behind Holmwood's remarkable success is Maurice Wilson, whose holistic approach to coaching has made him a rising star in local athletics.
After relatively successful stints at his alma mater, Ferncourt High School, and Clarendon College, Wilson has had a dream run at Girls Champs with Holmwood which have won the event for the last five years.
The school's transformation into an athletics powerhouse has coincided with Wilson's own rapid development as a coach. Last week, in an interview with The Gleaner, the stocky Wilson, a 2006 Gleaner Honour awardee, said Holmwood's athletics programme has come full circle.
"In the first part of the programme I did every single thing ... long jump, discus, high jump, I was also the manager of the team," he said. "Now, I have a manager, assistant coaches and youngsters within the school who help out. The empowerment aspect has given me great satisfaction."
Wilson was scheduled to leave Monday with Jamaica's team to the annual Penn Relays in Philadelphia. He has been part of the national coaching programme since 1999 when he accompanied a squad to a cross-country meet in St. Lucia.
In those eight years, Wilson has watched Jamaica maintain its proud track and field heritage from the sidelines of major meets like the Olympics and the World Championships. He has also seen the Jamaican coach, most notably Stephen Francis, become internationally recognised, thanks to star sprinters Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson.
Powell and Simpson are members of Francis' elite MVP Track Club which is based at the University of Technology in St. Andrew. Wilson believes their success is proof that, like football and cricket, athletics is commercially viable.
"Firstly, MVP has shown that track and field is a business, if that's the way one wants to go," he said. "Secondly, it gives athletes who don't want to go abroad a which is to stay at home where they can be properly monitored," he added. "Remember, when you go over there (United States), you lose that personal contact you have with a coach because coaches have restricted hours and, of course, there is the onset of loneliness."
Securing the coveted track scholarship for athletes was the ultimate goal for high school coaches when Wilson took over the reins at Ferncourt in 1990. It was still priority when he arrived at Holmwood 10 years ago.
Several of Holmwood's top athletes, including Cheryl Morgan, Karen Gayle and Anneisha McLaughlin, are currently attending United States colleges. Wilson said he stresses the importance of education to his charges, whether abroad or at home.
"After a while, coaches realised that a lot of them (athletes) were going to places in the U.S. even worse than the high schools here, so we started to ensure that they become properly qualified," he explained. "We looked a here, like UTech, G.C. Foster (College) and various community colleges."
Wilson is a graduate of the G.C. Foster College where he earned an undergraduate degree in physical education. He was born in Porus, Manchester, the first of five children for a father who worked with the National Water Commission and a mother who was an educator.
Wilson excelled at track while in primary school, but an injury that kept him out of school for one year ended hopes of making it as an athlete. His love for athletics, however, was never impeded.
He says he was bitten by the coaching bug after watching the training methods of Fitz Coleman and Francis at Wolmer's Boys' School.
After two years at Ferncourt and four at Clarendon, Wilson moved back to his home parish for the job at Holmwood which was competitive in cricket, but outshone by Vere Technical and Manchester High in athletics.
Holmwood's magnificent run at Girls Champs in the past decade is reminiscent of Vere and Manchester during the 1970s and 1980s. The school's principal, Paul Bailey, said that the exploits at Girls Champs have been beneficial.
"The students definitely have a more positive outlook, we've been able to use the positives of the athletes to impact on academics," Mr. Bailey said. "As a result, more parents are sending their children to Holmwood."
Leading Holmwood's girls has also benefited Maurice Wilson. He has been a part of Jamaica's coaching staff to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
Last year, he was head coach for Jamaica's team to the World Junior Championship in Beijing, China.
Despite the acclaim coaching has brought, Wilson, a father of three, remains grounded.
"There are certain things in life I think you can never perfect and one of those is coaching," he reasoned. "Coaching is like teaching, you always have to reform yourself, re-educate yourself. So, for me, I don't know if I'll ever reach the pinnacle."
Maurice Wilson (left) with some of his young Holmwood charges. - photo by Anthony Foster
Maurice Wilson (right) and Raymond K.C. Graham at the Gleaner Honour Awards luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston in November last year. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer