Using academics to judge athletics

Published: Friday | July 26, 2013 Comments 0

Orville Higgins, Guest Columnist

A
few weeks ago, the case of young cricketer Aldaine Thomas created a firestorm of controversy on radio. For those unaware of the issue, Aldaine is a student at Holmwood, or certainly was, up to the end of the last school year. Aldaine played for the national senior team in the last regional Twenty20 tournament in January as wicketkeeper. He was invited to trials for the West Indies youth team a few months ago as well, but was not selected for Jamaica's Under-19 team which is currently involved in the regional youth tournament.

TOO BIG FOR THE JUNIORS?

That fact alone would have been interesting enough. Any story where a schoolboy represents his national senior team in January, gets invited to a West Indies youth trial in April, but can't make his own national youth team for a tournament in July, would naturally raise eyebrows, but that, in many ways, isn't even the most substantive issue relating to this story. Wavell Hinds, chairman of the youth selection committee, said when he was going through the records of schoolboy cricket for this year, he didn't see the name Aldaine Thomas. When he inquired, he was told that the youngster didn't play any schoolboy cricket because he didn't meet the attendance and academic requirements from the earlier term. According to the chairman, the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) has a policy that selection for a national youth team is dependent on performance in schoolboy cricket. Aldaine didn't play any schoolboy cricket this year, supposedly effectively disqualifying himself.

The issue appears to be fairly straightforward. But is it? Why should what a youngster does in school determine his selection on a national team? If a youngster gets zero for every subject and has a five per cent attendance record, should that matter one iota when it comes to selecting him or her on a national team? For me, these are entirely unrelated issues. The Inter Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) has a rule that, if a youngster is to take part in any ISSA-related sports event, then that youngster must have an attendance record no less than 80 per cent and should be averaging no less than 40 in at least four subjects in the term preceding the one in which the competition is on.

That rule, though well intentioned when it first started, needs revising. Many students don't perform to their true academic potential for reasons not entirely of their own making. They may have genuine learning disabilities, or may be undergoing things at home, which makes schoolwork difficult. Many of them leave primary school functionally illiterate anyway. Punishing these students by taking away the privilege of representing the school in sports can be a cruel thing to do.

But I digress. In the case of Aldaine Thomas, this youngster was still at school when he was invited to senior training in November and December last year. No measures were put in place, either by the school or the JCA, regarding how his academic requirements would be dealt with in the weeks when he was at senior trials and practice, or indeed, when he went away to play in the regional Twenty20 tournament. Surely something has got to be wrong with that.

SHOULD NEVER BE REPEATED

I have heard from people close to Holmwood that Aldaine was not paying enough attention to school last year, and his attendance and academic record were a reflection of his declining interest. That may well be true. But the youngster has been at Holmwood for years, and, except for the year when he was called to the national senior programme, he has always had the academic and attendance record to be able to play. The one time when he was involved with the national senior programme is the one time he failed to have the attendance and academic record. Surely the fact that he was involved in national training and trials in the Christmas term must have affected his schoolwork and his attendance, and those should have been taken into consideration, not only by the school, which prevented him from playing Headley Cup cricket this year, but also by the national youth selectors, when they sat to pick the national youth team. Aldaine won't be able to be involved, but we must ensure that his experience is never repeated.

I leave the JCA with the following recommendations. Schoolwork and school cricket should not necessarily have a bearing on national youth selection. And the next time they pick a schoolboy for national training, they must put in place provisions for his academics.

Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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