Top contenders get set for grand title chase
A number of top contenders, including last year's runners-up, St Andrew, are sizing up their chances of winning the 29th Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA)/ Sagicor Primary National Athletics Championships, which takes place on Friday and Saturday at the National Stadium.
Last year, Portland beat St Andrew by just nine points after scoring 374 points to the latter's 365. Portland were first in the girls' category with 220 points, well clear of St Andrew's 170, which have won the title on 16 occasions since 1984.
Many of their top athletes at last year's meet are still on the team, and Merlene Smith, the parish coordinator, says they are going to try to make a big impression.
"We have some very outstanding athletes in the Under-17 and Under-13 boys," said Smith. "We have 86 athletes so far, but we are still going to try and come out with a bang."
Three other parishes to watch are St Catherine, which placed fifth last year; St Elizabeth, which finished fourth; and third-place Kingston.
Colin Spence, parish coordinator for St Catherine, said they have lost their "better athletes".
"We have a serious challenge with our Class One and Two athletes. We are close to the urban centre, and a lot of high-school recruiting takes place, so we are not able to retain our better athletes," Spence said.
St Elizabeth's parish coordinator, Prince Rowe, said his camp is in high gear, and although they have managed to retain only 21 of the athletes from last year's championship, they will be seeking to ruffle some feathers.
"We are on top of things. We have two more training dates and we will have athletes right across the age groups in the different categories," said Rowe, whose team will comprise move than 90 athletes, coaches and support staff.
Title sponsor Sagicor Life Jamaica renewed its commitment to the meet to the tune of $4.5 million, while noting that it will continue to reward the Champion Boy and Girl with a five-year academic scholarship at the secondary level.
"We believe Jamaica is loaded with champions, so we encourage the youngsters to make their parishes proud, because the road to greatness starts here," Sagicor brand manager Barrington Groves said.
This year's meet will feature 38 events and see approximately 1,200 athletes - Under-nine through to 17 - from the 14 parishes vying to be among 40 athletes who will represent Jamaica in this year's Caribbean Union of Teachers Championships to be held in Jamaica from July 20-21.