NO LAUGHING MATTER: Politics and sports
Because of the Education Act, it was decreed that all the secondary schools in Barbados were the same and therefore they all had to compete together in one track and field meet – the Inter-School sports. This was a political decision about sports.
So in 1985 we had the amalgamation of the newer and older secondary schools competing in one big track and field meet. Many of the newer secondary schools celebrated for it made them feel equal: “We can now run with the children from Harrison, Lodge and Combermere.”
As a result, the number of spectators from the 21 schools was adjusted to around 250 per school. The frustration of students who could not attend because of the quota restrictions took its toll over time and subsequently a lack of interest ensued. These student-supporters are all potential athletes so the disgust would naturally spill over and kill their feel for competition.
I soon observed that the number of participants in the Inter-School Sports was way below the number of athletes in the schools.
Track and field is the most “ordinary” sport. It is not like cricket, football, basketball or netball where you have to learn specific skills. We, as children, live track and field every day.
We walk. Walking is an event. We run from the rain, run for the bus, run from dogs; so we can run. We throw rocks – javelin, discus, shot put. We hop over a puddle in the road – long jump and triple jump. We jump over fences and benches and other obstacles – high jump, hurdles, pole vault.
So you see we are all natural athletes. We just have to condition our minds and bodies, learn the rules, refine those skills, and practise intensely until we can’t get it wrong.
I thought of what could be done in order to get more athletes interested in this Inter-school track and field meet.
At a meeting for physical education teachers and coaches, I suggested that we divide the meet into three divisions – first, second and third divisions. We would choose the seven schools that had the most points (boys and girls added together) for the past five years, and place them in division one. The next seven schools will be placed in division two and the remainder in division three. There would also be a demotion and promotion system.
All hell broke loose. I was referred to as an “elitist”.
One woman shouted “dah mean that Shirlene Williams would never get to run against anybody from Harrison College”.
I was in total shock. I thought that Shirlene Williams would want to run against the clock.
I explained that if a division three athlete ran a faster time than a division one athlete it would show up the same way.
I explained that some of the newer secondary schools were intimidated by the older schools and therefore psychologically they won’t believe that they could ever win and that was why they didn’t even try.
But if they were to be put in a division with schools getting approximately the same amount of points, they would become excited at the possibility of winning a championship and then you would see the numbers coming out.
I explained further that this track meet was about the school and not the individual.
This meet is a schools competition. This meet is not like The Louis Lynch Championships, the Junior Championships or The Jim Wedderburn Games. Those meets are for the individuals. There are no team titles.
Only Mara Thompson and a male teacher from St George Secondary supported me on that day. I left that meeting a worried man.
Now today, 30 years later, I am even more worried for looking at the results of the recently concluded inter-school sports, Lester Vaughan School is the only school from among those newer secondary schools that has placed among the top nine in both the boys and the girls competitions.
Some schools, in this politically devised meet, after five days of competition, got only 4, 5, 7 and 11 points.
Why were they there? Surely not to try to win. This is a schools meet, remember?
That result must be humiliating and demoralising. Why did they go to this particular meet? Just for politcal reasons.
By the way, Shirlene Williams did run against Harrison College.
Oh! The clock! I watched the 4x400m relays – girls and boys. Excitement! Fantastic running! Then I watched the same age groups running the 4x400m in Jamaica. Our girls ran
4 minutes 3 seconds. The Jamaican girls broke the old record of 3 minutes 30 seconds. That is a difference of approximately 33 seconds.
Our boys ran a blistering 3 minutes 19 seconds. The Jamaican boys ran 3 minutes 9 seconds. The clock!
Mac Fingall is an entertainer and retired secondary schoolteacher.