ISSA Champs
ISSA Champs

ISSA is a consortium of high school principals who organize and operate high school competitions. Track & field, football and cricket to some extent, are their major events. Track & field is by far their engine for income generation through their annual Boys and Girls Athletic Championships (Champs).

Now, the principals have voted to limit the transfer of students to two per year per class for athletes and three for other sports without any room for consideration of extenuating circumstances. To compound matters, they have actually deemed academics to be secondary by saying a child can go to sixth form (grade 12) without any subjects as long as his class work is above a certain average.

Now, we are seeing the absurdity of the sports minister and sports journalists in Jamaica pushing for students to concentrate on sports at the expense of academics if they are deemed talented enough. The success of Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake and a few others, plus the talk about sports tourism have made some lose their minds. I wonder how many of them would knowingly accept their child ignoring academics while working like a professional athlete to reach the athletic mountaintop.

The overwhelming majority of so-called talented athletes (football, track & field and cricket) never reach the level of expectations they, and many others have of them. The space at the top is extremely limited. In track& field, there are only eight lanes for the entire world in major finals. Football in Jamaica high school is not at the level of 15-year-olds at the clubs in the major football markets. I once saw a coach from abroad coming to Jamaica to recruit players for two spots. And, over 200 high school students turned up and that was just one of two tryouts.

Using extreme cases of students with the learning disability to justify ignoring academic requirement is absurd. The society assesses people for positions based on academic performances. The fact that schools should operate like an athletic club is stupid at best. There are kids that need special attention and the onus is on the education ministry, schools, parents and other parties to ensure the children get the required help to make them better able to handle the academic workload.

A lot of those advocating the end of the prominence of academics are looking on the Bolt, Asafa and Blake as the model while ignoring the glaring fact that the vast majority of athletes never reach that level, have a very short athletic life and never achieve the performance they and their backers believed. Now ISSA rule makes kids going to six form with no subjects and represent their school. Are we supposed to accept kids’ mediocrity in the classroom because of sports? A high school is an academic institution first and foremost and should never be confused for football, cricket, athletics or any other sports’ club.

We all know economics and social background have an impact on the pre-high school and high school academic performance. Nevertheless, if a kid comes from a poor background with issues at home and has great athletic talent, schools and past students association will get the required help to ensure this kid meets the academic requirement to perform on the track or field. I have seen many athletes who come from backgrounds we would not wish for our enemies much less ourselves but still excel in the classroom. Quite a few I know with the single parent, poverty and crime, find a way to succeed in class.

Now the principals pushed for limited transfers. This is in no way in the interest of the child. It is all about weaker schools in athletics keeping their best athletes. This may sound good; but in reality, there are many other variables involved that they conveniently ignore. For one, not all schools have the injury management system or the ability to get the required medical treatment an athlete may need when he gets injured. Then you have the possibility of a four-year scholarship to a reputable university. Truth be told, some schools give a kid a far better chance to get a four-year scholarship than others. There are connections that some schools have through their past students that others do not have. I have seen a kid getting a four-year scholarship because of the connections his school has than his/her athletic performance.  A parent seeking the best for his/her child will find roadblocks all because of some principals’ ill-conceived idea born out of petty self-interest.

The rules on the academic requirement and transfer affect students of the lower economic strata disproportionately. Middle and upper-class parents generally have the ability to take part in educating and provide tutoring for their children and even get required medical treatment for an injury. Poor people on a whole do not have the same ability, knowledge or information. Some schools do a better job with educating their athletes than others. This fact is also ignored. I as a parent would transfer my child if I believe superior medical treatment, academic demands, coaching, support and greater potential for a four-year scholarship is available at the preferred school. Now ISSA says no because some principals myopic interest gets in the way.

The relative few who have the disability that affects their learning should not be held up as the standard for the majority. We know children because of the underdeveloped cognitive process will at times avoid school work if they can. Now adults are giving them that option all because of what? Diminishing academic requirements because sports should never be considered, much less implemented. Some only want to see the performance on the track for these kids while ignoring the life benefits academics bring. Whatever knowledge you acquire in life, nothing pulls people out of poverty better than education. The space at the top of professional sports is limited. Parents do not allow schools, past students or anyone to use your child to fulfil their dream of winning a high school championship or minor school glory at the expense of your children long-term academic development. Doing both is ideal, but never lose sight of academic importance even when the coach, principal, support group, sports minister and sports journalists do.

**The views expressed in this article are those of the author (Robert Taylor) and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to,


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