Cameron: Athletes now thinking long term - Three coaches back those who opt for overseas scholarships
YEARS ago, it was the dream of most local high school athletes to obtain a scholarship to colleges and universities in the United States to continue their track and field careers, and these athletes played significant roles in the success of their respective institutions.
Many of these athletes went on to represent the country with distinction on the global stage. However, at the turn of the century, with the rise of top local clubs Racers, MVP and Sprint Tech, a lot of these athletes stayed at home after high school to continue their careers. They were motivated by the performances of stars like Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and others who shone brightly on the international stage, especially at the Olympics and World Championships, while being trained locally. Some of these athletes went to local colleges while others became professional athletes immediately.
Recently, however, top high school athletes have decided to go the route of greats like Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, and are choosing to attend overseas institutions as they appreciate the importance of acquiring a college degree.
In recent weeks, a host of top high school athletes have signed to take up athletic scholarships overseas. Top of this list are the two most outstanding athletes of the 2019 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships, Kevona Davis of Edwin Allen and Kingston College’s Wayne Pinnock. Both athletes ended the meet with three gold medals, including two in individual events. Davis captured the sprint double in Class Two, taking the 100m in a record 11.19 seconds and the 200m in 23.21. Pinnock won the Class One 110m hurdles in 13.06 seconds and the long jump with 8.05 metres, the first to go over the eight metres mark at Boys Champs. Davis has signed for University of Texas in Austin while Pinnock did so for the University of Tennessee.
With the likes of Bolt, Blake, Powell, Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson doing well while being conditioned locally, there are many who feel these top young stars should go the same route. However, national senior coaches, Olympian Bertland Cameron and Jerry Holness, along with Holmwood Technical’s head coach Dave Anderson, all supported the latest moves by the athletes.
“I believe that these student athletes are thinking long term. They realised that going overseas gives them more options. It gives them more time to mature and to get an education. For me, as a father and a coach, it’s very refreshing to see what is taking place,” said Cameron.
“It is a very good idea to go to a university on a full scholarship, get an education, and at the same time you have a choice when you are finished to come back to Jamaica to continue in your sport,” said the man who represented the country at three consecutive Olympic Games and who won the 400m title at the first World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in1983. He has also had coaching stints at Wolmer’s Boys and his alma mater, St Jago High.
Holness, who has been on coaching teams to several World Championships and Olympic Games and guided Natoya Goule in high school while he was the coach at Manchester High, stated that many athletes go overseas for “a change of environment after spending anywhere between five and six years competing in Jamaica”.
“There are not enough full scholarships in Jamaica because of the limited financial support in the colleges here, and only three or four professional clubs are functional here with the potential to fully support all the needs of an upcoming athlete. A number will fall by the wayside, unless they are gifted and ready to start earning on the circuit from early and be able to attract major sponsorship from a shoe company,” Holness said.
He added: “A number of athletes would have stayed home over the past 10 years and have had some success, but the percentage is not great enough to encourage the majority of our young athletes to take up this option. Some of those who stayed struggled, and it’s because of this why we are now seeing athletes taking up overseas scholarships.”
Anderson, who took over the reins as head coach at Holmwood after an impressive winning run at Girls Champs by former head coach Maurice Wilson, thinks that these athletes now realised that the landscape is changing in Jamaica.
“They want to ensure education is part of their plans,” Anderson said. He believes that the financial challenges that some of the athletes face locally are forcing the new stars to take up overseas scholarships.
“I still believe, however, that the above-average athlete can still make it locally in colleges if they have the right support system, but I would agree with the average or below-average ones talent-wise to go overseas because their chances of getting support system is higher,” the Holmwood coach concluded.