Inter Schools 2012

The Inter Primary and Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships 2012 have come and gone and there would be much by way of discussion in respect of the competition in all aspects.
This week’s Column addresses some aspects of the competition.

The planning for this year’s Athletics Championships began immediately following the conclusion of the competitions last year. The dates were set at the conclusion of the final term of the last academic year.
As far as the Ministry of Education and the schools were concerned the competitions were scheduled as follows:
Inter Primary Schools Heats – 7 – 8 March
Inter Secondary Schools Heats – 15 – 16 March
Inter Primary Schools Finals – 21 March
Inter Secondary Schools Finals – 23 March
In November 2011 the announcement was made at the national level that St Vincent and the Grenadines had been awarded three One-Day Internationals (ODI) in the DIGICEL West Indies versus Australia series for 2012. The dates were set as 16, 18 and 20 March respectively.
There was never any consultation with anyone associated with the annual schools Athletics Championships since as is the norm once the West Indies Cricket Board has awarded matches to this country it is a fair acompli that the field, essentially the home of Cricket here, is to be made available to the sport’s authorities.
While obviously everyone was understanding in the priority to be allocated to the ODIs it nonetheless meant a derailing of the plans established well ahead of time by the Schools Games Committee (SGC) and its Athletics Sub Committee.
Many of the nation’s primary and secondary schools would have, by the beginning of the first term in the 2011/12 academic year, planned and scheduled their respective athletics competitions in sync with the original dates for the Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) and the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC). Several of them would have requested the Arnos Vale Playing Field while others would have sought the Victoria Park.
Once the dates for the ODIs were announced the National Sports Council. Custodians of the Arnos Vale Playing Field, declared the field closed effective November 2011 through to 21 March 2012 in order to adequately prepare for the scheduled matches. This in turn left all of the schools that had originally requested this facility for their own sports to seek alternative venues. Arnos Vale #2 was not prepared for the competitions that would normally be expected at this time of the year.
The Victoria Park was already heavily booked for athletics and football and a meeting was convened between the National Lotteries Authority (NLA), custodians of the Victoria Park, the Athletics Sub Committee and the Football Federation to agree a schedule that would at once facilitate all stakeholders and still leave room for rest and rehabilitation of the facility.
The acquisition of a long-term agreement with the National Lotteries Authority to sponsor the annual IPSAC and ISSAC has obviously allowed for improved advanced planning although there may well be areas that require comprehensive review.
Once the schedule for use of Victoria Park was agreed it was discovered that the initially proposed dates for the registration of athletes for the IPSAC and ISSAC had to be revisited since many schools would have had their sports even after the dates for which they had earlier been planned.
The Secretariat of the Athletics Sub Committee had requested a minimum of two weeks between the deadline for registration and the dates of the Heats. This would allow for proper entering of the participants in the Meet Manager system and double-checking the information to ensure accuracy.
The change of dates for closing the registration of schools therefore created another barrage of problems.
Schools are not the most proficient at meeting deadlines and the IPSAC and ISSAC suffered. Many of the schools did not meet the new deadlines and asked for an extension. This happened in the case of both events leaving little time for the systematic verification of entries as would otherwise have been the case.
While come may have been eager to suggest the elimination of all schools that did not meet the deadline it was thought that the circumstances that gave rise to the problems needed to receive appropriate attention and consideration.
The fact that the norm allows schools to enter alternate athletes for each event did little to help the situation at the late stage.
Not surprisingly there were several problems that flowed from the late registration process that complicated the overall administration of the activities.
Participation was very high this year.
The IPSAC and ISSAC attracted scores of athletes from the various schools spread across the country.
The decision to facilitate the travel and accommodation of schools from the Southern Grenadines proved immensely useful and ensured their optimal participation in the ISSAC. Unfortunately scheduling of transport did not allow for their participation this year in the IPSAC.
The decision to use a single venue for the Heats for IPSAC in contrast to the zonal approach undertaken last year meant that athletes from across the country were competing on the same facility. In essence they were on a level playing field in all respects.
The teachers were much more enthusiastic about their involvement in the IPSAC than hitherto and there is reason to believe that this aspect would lead to a significant growth spurt in participation in the future.
Sure, there were difficulties but they would have to be addressed in the coming period to raise the overall standard of the competition in all aspects.
The Athletics Sub Committee once more prepared the competition arena to international standard. The lanes were coloured and the overall atmosphere created left the athletes with a sense that they had finally arrived in the ‘big league’. The arena lent itself to excitement competition and the athletes did not fail us.
The IPSAC started very late as the organisers gave some schools the opportunity to get to the arena. Many schools suffered from transport problems and indicated that they were on their way at the scheduled start time. This late start to the Finals meant a late conclusion. Still, every effort was made to avoid completing the competition too late.
The ISSAC started only half an hour late and went with smooth dispatch throughout the day with the final event being completed by 3.30pm.
The technical department of the championships was strengthened by the involvement of John Andalcio, an IAAF-certified Technical official while the electronic timing department benefitted from oversight and evaluation from Jeff Sweeney of FinishLynx.
The level of competition at bot the IPSAC and ISSAC was high.
The athletes continued to suffer from the heavy sand base that exists at the Arnos Vale facility.
When one considers the fact that the athletes were unable to access the more level Arnos Vale Playing Field for their preparation, the results can only be considered outstanding. The overall times, distances and heights attained were not the best possible had the athletes been exposed to the better surface for the respective championships.
Athletes were nonetheless very keen to give of their best.
While at the ISSAC many of the athletes seemed to think it almost fashionable to drop to the ground at almost every turn the young ones involved in IPSAC stood their ground in the vast majority of cases.
The fact that many changes were undertaken at the Heats because of numerous problems the results of the Heats reflected this and many corrections had to be made under what could not have been the most ideal conditions.
There would always be challenges to results and this year would have been expected given the near-chaos that resulted from the numerous changes that had to be made in several different aspects of the organisation and administration of the competitions.
Competition officials worked diligently throughout the competition and there was an absence of the traditional rancour and challenges.
The future
The Athletics Sub Committee has already undertaken the first phase of its annual review of both the IPSAC and ISSAC. The draft report would then be circulated to the members of the Sub Committee for their individual review. There would then be a meeting of the Sub Committee at which the final Report would be agreed before submission to the SGC.
The future should see an expansion of the Competitions Secretariat to involve more persons committed to the development of the sport of athletics and interest in this aspect of the competition.
Arrangements are already in place for the training of a new cadre of technical officials over the next several months to ensure more persons are sufficiently knowledgeable, competent and available to serve the sport in this all-important area.
The SGC would have to spend some time ensuring that at all of the nation’s schools the birth certificate is what is actually used at registration time in order to avoid problems with regard to athletes being placed in the appropriate age-category during competition.
The IPSAC and ISSAC constitute the most high-profile sports competitions on the annual schools calendar of the Ministry of Education. Consideration must be given to reviewing the structure of the competition and the number of days involved. Some have already suggested two days of Heats and two days of Finals with semi finals included. These ideas make for good discussion and significant improvements in the coming period.
Planning for 2013 has already started and the stage is being set for higher levels of achievement.