The Portland-based defending champions, Buff Bay High School, will be seeking to maintain its lien on the Eastern Secondary Schools’ Sports Association/Jamaica National Building Society Track and Field Championships, scheduled for the National Stadium in the Corporate Area, March 3 and 4.
The two-day Meet, which is being sponsored by JNBS for the 29th consecutive year, was launched at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston on February 26. More than 900 athletes from 20 high schools are set to participate in approximately 80 events at this year’s staging of the ESSSA/ JNBS Champs, which organisers say will offer a fuller package for patrons.
The event, which is one of the major meets on the high school track and field calendar, is a qualifier for the National Boys’ and Girls’ Track and Field Championships.
Buff Bay High is set for a showdown with its main rival, 16-time champions Oberlin High School, which walked away with the 2011 and 2012 titles consecutively, but fell second to Buff Bay’s might last year. However, Everton Leslie, Oberlin’s Coach says his team has strengthened its performance in the field events this year; and, he expects the athletes to maintain their dominance of the female events, especially in the Class One activities, including the 100 metre and 200 metre sprints.
“We are always in a position for a win, but we are not taking things for granted,” he affirmed.
However, Kevin Brown, Buff Bay’s Coach says although the school has lost some of its star Class One athletes, including Sadine Blake in the 100 metre, 200 metre and 400 metre sprints, and Dereen Vale in the discus and javelin open field events, he expects a fight to the finish.
“The students are confident and motivated, so the other schools will have to fight hard to get it from us,” he said, maintaining that Buff Bay would continue to emerge in the field events.
St. Mary High, which placed third at last year’s Meet, rounds out the top three seeded teams in this year’s championships.
But Richard Thompson, ESSSA Chairman said, while last year’s top three teams should emerge, there are no clear favourites this year and so fans should expect a very competitive Meet.
“We anticipate a very “upbeat showdown,” with high energy performances from emerging stars, such as Collin Sewell of Titchfield in the Boys’ Class One 200 metre and 400 metre event; Lovell Evans of St. Mary High in the Girls’ Class Two 100 metre, 200 metre and 400 metre races; Gawayne Lawton also of St. Mary in the Boys’ Class One 800 metre and 1500 metre,” he said.
He said patrons should also look out for record performances from Kadijah Oliphant of Oberlin in the Girls Class One high jump, long jump, 100 metre and 200 metre sprint events; while her schoolmate Jerome Crawford is expected to make waves in the 800 metre and 1500 metre distance races.
Thompson said patrons can look forward to a smooth flowing and secure two-day Meet under the directorship of Garth Gayle. The ESSSA Chairman was also magnanimous and forthright in his praise of JNBS for partnering with ESSSA for the 28th year.
“We consider this a JNBS Meet and see the arrangement as a fruitful marriage between good corporate citizenship and contribution to nation building through sports,” he said. “JNBS continues to invest in the East when others have given up on our young athletes and they recognise the current need to support our athletes, instead of waiting around for them to become Olympians first.”
Pointing to Olympians, such as Juliet Cuthbert; and hurdler, Hansle Parchment, he added that the Building Society’s support has resulted in the consistent growth of Eastern Champs, and the continued honing of some of the country’s finest young athletes.
In response to Thompson’s comments, Leon Mitchell, Assistant General Manager, JNBS, said this year’s staging of the championships will offer more to patrons through the reintroduction of the cheerleading competition, in which the top three schools will be awarded.
However, Mitchell says beyond the thrill and camaraderie, the event seeks to introduce the youngsters to good habits each year that will help in their holistic development.
“The legacy of programmes like these goes beyond the cheers and the trophies; and seeks to impart life-long lessons that will develop our young people, so that they can provide the future leadership that we want for our country,” he said.
He noted, for instance, that championship events such as this one also provide an opportunity to improve financial literacy among students and encourage thrift at an early stage.
“We live in a society where our people are not saving, although they know that they should, and through events like these we can introduce our children to these good habits, so that they can be better prepared for the future,” he stated.
Mitchell announced that Jamaica National will be launching its School Saver’s Promotion for schools in this year’s championships. And, the Society will reward the school which records the most savers from March to May with a cash contribution towards its Sports Department. A scholarship will also be granted to the top student saver.
“It is a fact that this Meet continues to produce extraordinary talent over the decades; but, we must be careful that we don’t waste the opportunity to demonstrate the real life lessons that sports has to offer; and the secondary skills we can teach our young people,” Mitchell affirmed.