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LETTER OF THE DAY - Awarding excellence in schools

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM


WHILE WE celebrate the centenary of Boys' Champs, let us try to take a good look at what its effect has been on our high-school system. Champs is a fantastic spectacle that may well be worth the money spent on it but, somewhere along the line, the purpose of sports as physical education in schools has been forgotten.

There clearly is no virtue in having 22 men on a field chasing after a single ball. There is nothing productive in the activity. What is important is the idea that transcends the activity. Games are metaphors of life. That is why we enjoy them. They were introduced as tools of education meant to develop discipline, teamwork, courage and character in young men and women. Thomas Arnold at Rugby School in the United Kingdom in the 19th century made sport into a formal part of the education process and also introduced the house and prefect systems to complement the process of character training and development of leadership skills.

To what extent do the results in Champs or Manning and daCosta Cup, Grace Shield or Headley Cup reflect the state of physical education in individual schools? It is my suspicion that many of the schools that do well in these competitions do not necessarily have good physical education programmes. What they have are programmes to improve their performance in these competitions. It would be informative to find out the extent to which ordinary students still get a chance to participate in sports in our schools. How many schools still have internal house competitions? How many schools have special programmes for overweight students? I will bet that, in most cases, the only ones that have their diet monitored are the members of the various teams who represent the school.

There have been a number of young people who showed great promise at Champs and then faded from the scene. We need to find out why. Is it that in the drive to win Champs, some of these young people were overstressed while they were still growing?

Broaden horizon for champs

At the same time, many of our top performers did not go to any of the schools which have won Champs. Among such athletes are Asafa Powell from Charlemont, Usain Bolt from William Knibb and Nester Carter of Manchester High. Among the female athletes are Deon Hemmings from The Manning's School and Juliet Cuthbert (St Thomas Tech). The point is that there is no evidence that these athletes would have done any better had they gone to Calabar, Kingston College (KC), Jamaica College (JC), Holmwood, St Jago or Vere Technical. KC is yet to produce an Olympic gold medallist and neither JC nor Calabar has produced any since Helsinki.

But we continue to marginalise students in order to protect and maintain the spurious reputations of a few schools in sports as we do in academics.

Perhaps it is time to change Champs into an inter-parish youth games. We could have an annual youth week, with Champs as the climax, where young people who have achieved excellence in all sorts of activities would be rewarded and given formal recognition.

I am, etc.,

R. Howard Thompson