André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Local high-school track and field is certainly a story of 'haves' and 'have-nots', and with the ISSA/GraceKenendy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships now taking place inside the National Stadium, a number of coaches of less-fancied teams are calling for equal treatment.
A general lack of support, corporate rejection and what they call unfair treatment at meets - such as Champs itself - are but some of the complaints levelled by the coaches, some of whom boast over a decade of coaching experience.
Rohan Bryan has been leading Morant Bay High School's track-and-field programme for 14 years - in that period, conditioning almost 20 national junior representatives and countless Champs medallists, with several top-10 finishes to his credit.
However, as far as Bryan is concerned, the playing field is certainly not level and for coaches like himself, it's an endless struggle to keep his programme afloat, as he staves off rabid recruiters and fight for attention from sponsors.
"The basis of it is that if you are not Champs [title] contenders, nobody is willing to hear from you. Our culture in Jamaica is that we are wagonists and so we jump on the winning school; we don't push the loser until he becomes the winner," lamented Bryan, who also coached Olympic 110m hurdles bronze medallist Hansle Parchment during his time at the St Thomas-based school.
"So if someone has hurdles to give away, they give it to the school that has 20 already. Nobody is willing to look at a school and say, 'OK, you have produced some good hurdlers, so we will give you some hurdles'," Bryan complained.
These were sentiments shared by Tarrant High's head coach, Devon Smith.
"It is very difficult to get sponsorship; it's a tedious challenge. Corporate support is lacking. We have been to a lot of persons over the years and they refuse to come on board," Smith said. "They ask what we can offer or how we can sell their name and it should be so much more than that."
The concerns do not stop there for Bryan, who also vented on the aggressive recruitment by established programmes and unfair treatment at Champs.
"The athletes that you have, as soon as they reach national prominence, they are hunted and haunted by bigger programmes, so each time you move up, your programme is stifled," Bryan added. "Recently, we lost four athletes, two of whom were national reps and all of them were points givers at Champs."
Bryan said: "I have had cases where you are told that you are in lane two, and when you come back, you are pushed to lane eight. Other times, some of the big top schools are disqualified and reinstated and you get pushed out. We have suffered that a lot here as well."
Smith added: "We have been seeing where, as a small school, we are not being treated in all fairness in the same way that more prominent schools are treated, but we still stick with it. We need a level playing ground and everyone to be treated fairly."