Inter Secondary Schools 2010

The annual Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships 2010 have come and gone. The respective individuals and institutions have earned the bragging rights.
The week’s column seeks to address the various aspects of the Championships that impact the success or failure.

Generally, the administration component of the Meet was quite good. An Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships Committee, established in preparation for the event in 2009 continued in operation. This made for continuity since the membership was the same for the most part. Meetings were frequently held and decidedly focused such that every aspect of the preparatory exercise was always comprehensively addressed.
The registration process was done online for the first time and the responsiveness of the various schools was admirable. The format was simple yet adequate for the purposes of the organisers of the competition.
The existing format also allowed for the establishment of a relatively comprehensive database of students who are involve din sport across the country.
There were two days of Heats – 19 and 19 March – and one day of Finals – 25 March 2010.
It was agreed that the Principals Association would handle the protocol aspects of the event and this worked well.
The details of the programme for all the days of competition were agreed very early. Unfortunately on the day of the Finals several schools were late and the plans initially proposed for a spectacular start came to nought with only a handful of participating teams involve din the activity.
Participation in this year’s competition was very high. It was clear that enough work had been done by the PE Teachers in the respective schools and by the Technical Director of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, Gideon Labban, in encouraging optimal participation in the event.
Despite the loss of access to the Arnos Vale Playing Field the usual slew of individual school sports took place before the Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships.
While participation was high there was evidence that not all of the students were adequately prepared for the level of competition in which they were involved.
The Sports Medicine personnel on duty over the three days of competition can attest to the fact that this year saw the most athletes needing their attention. This was more so in the case of female athletes than in the case of the boys but it was huge.
Given that the competition is held annually one cannot understand the seeming lack of adequate preparation by several of the athletes.
Consideration must of course be given to the fact that many of them would have been competing on the Arnos Vale # 1 surface for the first time in the academic year. They would not have been accustomed to the heavy sand base that characterises this facility and the impact it would have on their performances. The surface was particularly harsh on those who engaged in several events on the track.
The overall standard of performances witnessed, especially on the track, while competitive, was not of a particularly high standard. This is clearly reflected in the times clocked by the various runners.
It is unfortunate that there are still some schools, which really overburden athletes with too many events in the period for the Meet. In the relatively short time frame between events it is not possible for some of these athletes to adequately recover. The net result is declining performances.
Importantly, for the very first time the organisers were able to get every athlete to participate in the sprint races from the crouched start position. This is a remarkable achievement. That several students learnt to use the starting blocks is an indication that we are not ever likely to return to the old bad habit of standing starts in the sprint events. This reality places our students in the league of all other countries worldwide.
There is an obvious need for more athletics equipment to be made available to athletes across the school system in this country. Not many are sufficiently familiar with the Shot and Discus. Fewer still appear familiar with the high jump even though it was clear in its appeal to many during the Championships irrespective of their limited chances of success. The interest in these field events requires regular use of the equipment. Each school must have a stock of equipment of its own so that the students can engage in regular practice.
Additionally, it should be mandatory that at every playing field constructed in this country adequate arrangements should be made for an appropriate area for horizontal jumps – long and triple. Concrete circles must also be constructed for use with the Shot and Discus Throws.
Many students appear capable of doing well in the field events and in the absence of a synthetic surface this may be their only chance of getting to the Carifta and other established standards.
There is also a sense in which the different sizes of fields available to students in different parts of the country negatively the overall performances of our students. In some places the largest field is 200m while in others it is 250m. In some instances the field accommodates either a 300m or 350m track. To arrive at Arnos Vale and engage in competition on a 350m track with standard lanes 1.24m wide is significantly different to having trained on a 200m track with no lanes at all.
There were some complaints about the fact that the organisers took the decision to select the eight fastest times in each event to send forward to the Finals. The organisers took the decision because of the current structure of the competition. Under the existing system many athletes simply contest the Heats and they are done if they do not make it to the finals.
With so many secondary schools involved in the competition and the number of days available for the competition it is impossible to have the full rules of the international governing body for the sport fully implemented.
Ideally there should have been Heats, Semi Finals and Finals. But this was not possible in three days. We would have required four days for the entire competition. This is the situation in Jamaica where at the end of March each year there are four days of competition dubbed, Boys and Girls Champs.
The preferred option is to have the Heats contested such that the winners of each Heat have another chance of making it to the Finals in the. track events. This would mean that one would need two days for the Semi Finals of both boys and girls events. There is every reason to believe that this latter format will facilitate greater interest and engender higher-level performances by the athletes as well as give reason for greater support from their fellow students.
As always there were challenges in terms of universal acceptance of the results at the finish line. The time has probably come for investment into the appropriate technology – photo-finish equipment, to facilitate an end to this.
Technical officials are not robots and there is always the likelihood that their decisions receive criticism. The use of advanced technology, albeit a costly proposition, is critical to allow for the kind of progress to be made in keeping with international standards.
At the same time it may well be necessary to state here that some technical officials do need further training and some must up the ante in terms of the level of professionalism that is required of them in events such as the Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships.
For the first time in many years the participating teams made the extra effort to ensure a high level of uniformity amongst their respective athletes involved in the finals. Last year there were several complaints about the unsightliness of several athletes in all sorts of gear such that it was virtually impossible for patrons to determine who was representing which institution.
It certainly appears that the respective principals took the criticisms in good stride and redressed the situation.
Sports Medicine
There was no doubt that this was one of the better years in terms of the number of members of the Red Cross who were on duty during the entire competition, from Heats through to the Finals.
The organisers had procured the services of Perry de Freitas, head of this country’s Sports Medicine Association, and Denis Byam, recent graduate from Cuba. They provided the organisers with a comprehensive list of their requirements to assure the medical coverage of the participants.
The Red Cross personnel were strategically deployed throughout the competition arena and were particularly attentive for the duration of the event.
Congratulations are in order to the security personnel who served this year’s Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships with distinction.
There were no instances of violence and no legal infractions to speak about. Here again this was remarkable.
Patrons were apprised well in advance of the security measures that would be in place and there was overwhelming compliance.
Parents and principals were comfortable with the safety of their children and charges at this year’s event.
The annual Inter Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships remain the nation’s most anticipated sporting event for students. The organisation of this event is as yet far from perfect and the deficiencies must be addressed.
Greater effort must be made to promote the event.
Schools must ensure that at their own sports there is a role for past students. The latter must also  somehow be involved in the preparation for the Inter Schools event and be there to encourage the students from their alma mater.
The conspicuous absence of the print media at the awards presentation at the conclusion of the competition reflects how far back we are in terms of appreciating our students in their sporting endeavours. It was most embarrassing to have people with cell phones asked to take photos. Perhaps what is  necessary here is for the organisers to ensure adequate photo archiving of the annual event and include this component in its annual budget.
Congratulations are in order for the St Vincent Corrugated Containers Inc for their long standing sponsorship of the event and to all who were involved in its successful realisation.
The stage is now set for 2011 when greater advances can be made to ensure that it proves to be a greater showcasing of Vincentian athletics talent than hitherto.