Evening Athletics and the challenge of change

Three years ago the physical education teacher at the Bethel High School, Theon Gordon, convinced the principal and staff at the institution that they should be innovative relative to the hosting of the school’s annual athletics championships. The decision was to host the annual event during the hours of 2:00 – 8:00pm.
Since then we have had the Barrouallie Secondary School following suit for the past two years and for the very first time this year, the Intermediate High School joined forces with the JP Eustace Memorial to host their event in the evening as well.
Initially, there was no known challenges to the event being hosted in the afternoon into the early evening. However, this year, we have suddenly had something of a ‘storm in a teacup’ being ventilated.
The real issue however seems to be the fear of the unknown that comes as a result of the challenges associated with change.
Annual Individual Athletics Championships
Schools across the nation have long since been accustomed to hosting their annual athletics championships. It is an event that everyone looks forward to with much anxiety since it is the time when the various houses compete for honours and bragging rights.
Physical education has only been introduced on the curriculum of the nation’s secondary and tertiary educational institutions in the recent past following a decision by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to make the twin disciplines (physical education and sport) an examinable subject.
Long before the decision by the CXC, sport has always been a feature of our nation’s schools. Many would recount the delight of witnessing the St Vincent Grammar School and the Girls’ High School, convene their respective annual sports. Being the major secondary institutions the leading athletes in track and field competition initially came from there.
The St Vincent Grammar School was noted for the outstanding performers in athletics as much as in other sports.
Significantly, it was commonplace to find that several of the most outstanding track and field athletes were also proficient in other sporting disciplines so much so that they gained selection o national representative teams in different sports in the same year(s).
It was also commonplace to find that the majority of students at schools around the country wanted to participate in their annual athletics’ championships. It was fun as well as a means of contributing something to one’s house.
Unfortunately, times have changed.
At the level of the secondary schools in particular, there has been a significant drop-off in the participation rate of students in the annual event. The largest decline has been witnessed amongst girls.
Following the completion of her degree in physical education Ms Rosmund Griffith, now Education Officer for Physical Education and Sport at the Curriculum Development Unit of the Ministry of Education, undertook a study that addressed the issue of the high drop-out rate amongst girls from sport in the North Windward area. She identified a number of factors that impacted the situation.
Where once it was a great sight to see the vast majority of girls at the Girls High School involving themselves in the Heats, now a majority of them are observers, part of the cheering section of the school rather than competitors.
It should also be noted that the aforementioned situation has been found to exist in the Caribbean and indeed, in many countries around the world.
The International Association of Athletics Associations (IAAF) the international governing body for track and field athletics, has been engaging itself in a fair amount of research into the aforementioned issue in an effort to re-dress it and so save the sport.
An attendant issue is of course attendance at the finals of the respective athletics championships. Some students often see this day as an opportunity to stay at home rather than be a part of the sporting spectacle.
Herein St Vincent and the Grenadines the problem of declining interest in participating in the annual athletics championships is especially problematic at the secondary school level.
The annual Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC) has witnessed declining numbers in participation.
Quite noticeable however has also been a decline in attendance at the finals of the ISSAC. The numbers attending the annual Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) have been growing each year so much so that there is a clamour for the annual finals to be given the same status as the ISSAC, allowing the schools the day to attend the competition.
Parents take time off to be at the IPSAC supporting their children.
One of the features of change in the ISSAC has been the fact that students attending the competition are not required to wear the official uniforms of their respective schools. This has led to some discussions on the local media for some time with a few callers commenting on the mode of dress of some of the girls in attendance in particular.
Perhaps the core issue is really who bears responsibility for the clothes worn by our children on such occasions?
One would assume that the children have parents and that the latter are somehow involved in the choice and procurement of the clothes their children wear.
One must also assume that the parents are involved in the determination of when to wear what has been purchased.
Perhaps we are afraid of addressing a broader social issue.
Schools play a role in every child’s development. In a sociological sense, we understand the school to be one of the critical agents of individual socialisation where children are further imbued with values deemed consistent with national value consensus.
The decision of successive governments in the Caribbean to have students up to the secondary level wear uniforms when attending classes or representing the school is really aimed at encouraging the all-important value of discipline.
On weekends and on festive occasions during the year students are free to wear whatever their parents approve and this is as it should be.
There is nothing inherently wrong therefore in the students attending the annual ISSAC as patrons wearing whatever has received the approval of their parents. On the day of the finals the teachers take responsibility for the participating athletes while the overall organisers of the competition take responsibility for the general administration of the event including conduct.
Over the years we have seen an end to the gang warfare that so often played out on the day of the finals.
A more recent concern has been that of what has been dubbed, ‘the after party’. No school authority nor anyone at the Ministry of Education have been responsible for the activities of patrons following the security sweep of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex following the conclusion of the day’s activities re the finals.
Afternoon to evening sports
Schools sports have traditionally been held during the day time.
There is now a major change in people’s use of time. It has been found that many prefer to have leisure-time activities such as sport taking place in the late afternoons going into the evenings.
We have always known that organisers get better crows when their activities are held in this period. Potential patrons have the time to get to the activities at a more convenient time following the conclusion of their work day.
It is also a fact that many past students would wish to attend the annual athletics championships of their alma maters. With the competition taking place from 9.00am it is not always possible for many of the past students to attend and support both their former houses and their schools.
Having the sports going into the evening makes it possible for better attendance from past students.
Parents are more likely to attend and support their children in the afternoons going into the evening. This is a major source of encouragement for their children and aids the school authorities in exerting greater control over the latter during the say.
That parents involve themselves in the participation and performance of their children who are students of a particular school lays the basis for greater involvement at other activities thereby facilitating a more harmonious and beneficial relationship between the two groupings.
There has been a very unfortunate claim made by some individuals in the public domain that evening sports promote sexual activity and is somehow related to the incidence of HIV/AIDS in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Such claims are at best misguided. There has not been any established relationship between evening sports and the incidence of the aforementioned.
The schools that has as yet taken the plunge to host their annual athletics competitions from the afternoon through to the evening have been seeking to raise the profile of their sports by being decidedly innovative.
There is a recognition that the athletes perform better in the presence of supporters who would not have been in attendance had the event been held in the more traditional time of day.
The appeal of the current change may well serve to encourage many other schools to be innovative.
There is every reason to believe that soon we may begin to see some schools utilising the weekends for their annual sporting activities, moving away from the interference of the school-week. Indeed, some have already suggested that this may well make for better attendance and support for the athletes and an enhancement of the status of the events and of the educational institutions.
Change is hard
Change is not readily accepted by a society. This is the reality currently confronting Vincentian society with the innovative move to afternoon/evening athletics championships.
Many people are being cajoled out of their traditional comfort zone.
Beliefs and values are never fixed. They are always subject to change. Societies are ever-changing entities because people change.
The time has come for us to be more positive in the way we look at our children as they move through maturity. It is always easier to condemn them than it is to acknowledge society’s failure to adequately socialise them to be better individuals and citizens of our country.