The question of professionalism in high school sports (both girls and boys) has been around from the 1960s and has also been a very hot topic for the past 30 years. This followed on the heels of whether or not the Olympic Games should continue to ban professional participants.
It has been confronted recently in this paper twice by The Laird; on April 2 in the Daily Gleaner by Dr Paul Wright; also on the same date by Laurie Foster in the Gleaner; in a Jamaica Observer editorial; and in a health related way by our esteemed Dr Glen Mills who spoke to injuries and the dangers of overworking young athletes.
The first champion of the “education first”, Dr Lascelve “Muggy” Graham (himself an outstanding schoolboy and former Jamaica football captain), has personally undergone ridicule and has been ostracized by people who only want to win sporting events. It is a travesty to treat an outstanding athlete and doctoral graduate in this manner as he has shown that excellence does not happen only on the field of play. The disrespect shown to him is not in keeping with the sense of honour with which many of our schools choose to decorate their motto (even in Latin).
The sense of personal aggrandizement, bragging rights, and sometimes obnoxious behaviours emanate from those past students who never chose to even turn out to represent their alma mater in their days. This is about those who did not achieve and wish to live their dreams vicariously. They really need a virtual reality game and a comfortable couch.
This over exuberance more severely affects the testosterone and white rum crowd to a much greater extent than the ladies, but they are not totally exempt. The big personal donations to sports far exceed the gifts towards improving education. Yet we claim that we are doing a great service for these children in our care. We glibly lie about these “potential scholarships” to save our consciences, but where is the data on the academic achievements of the thousands who will never be Usain or Shelly-Ann?
I recognize that the empirical data must be brought to the forefront in order to resolve the hyperbole and pure rhetoric in a way that will allow for a proper discussion once and for all. This is an area for much-needed comprehensive research that will inform educators, past students, parents, children, coaches, and the general public.
I would start the survey by looking at the numbers of participants, their ages, and grade level (names not required). When we start seeing 17 and 18 year old students in grades 8, 9, and 10, there is cause for alarm, for if they get to 6th form they will be in their 20s. For those 18-year-old students who leave after grade 11 we need to know their number of CSEC subjects passed and their grades. I would rate 1, and 2, and possibly grade 3 as acceptable.
Next, I would look at the number of participants who were originally placed in the school after GSAT; those who transferred from other schools and at what age and in what grade. It will begin to set the basis for an informed discussion on “buying students” and over time will show whether there has been any great improvement in their educational standards (the common rebuttal from the pro-recruitment posse). I would also review school attendance prior to, during, and after the various competitions.
In this way we will have the data necessary for informed debate and decision-making. These are mainly teenagers who must be encouraged to have the basis for a future career when age or injuries force them to leave the participant stage.
These are our children. They are not thoroughbreds that race at Caymanas Park. They are not there for exploitation or amusement. They are not there for betting and gaming. The primary purpose of all schools is education and development of young minds, and without the background data it is impossible to have an enlightened discussion.
Where are all the athletic heroes and heroines of yesterday that did not make the professional ranks? Some live and die on the streets or beg for survival. Do we even care?
Sports are vital for promoting healthy bodies and minds, and for teaching teamwork, discipline, and leadership. There is no alternative to sports for achieving good teenage socialization. Sports are a path to developing people who will be good citizens. Winning at any cost develops a dangerous mindset that subverts rules, laws, and appropriate conduct.
We need an urgent re-think at the level of inter-school competitions, but it must be based on accurate information.