Much has been written in the media over the past few years about the policy of recruiting in schoolboy football. The fact that far less has been said about the practice in other sports particularly in track and field although it has existed there longer and is far more prevalent is a subject for a different day.
It is not coincidental that the discussion has reached fever pitch since St. George’s College has been dominating schoolboy football for the past five years. While I am integrally involved with the school, I make it clear that I speak in a personal capacity and my views do not necessarily reflect those of the school. While disparaging references to the school as St. George’s FC among other things have largely been ignored by those of us who know better, it has been particularly disturbing to me that the most damning statements about the school have come from a couple of its esteemed graduates who have not taken the time out to find out what is actually happening in the school or feel that the positives don’t make for good enough headlines. The latest, and I suppose, the one that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back that has spurred me into shedding some light on what actually happens at St. George’s, came from Minister Ronald Thwaites (a Rhode Scholar and graduate of the school) who described the practice of recruiting as “vulgar” and resolved to stamp it out. As an aside it’s a little surprising that the minister was a keynote speaker praising the efforts of the boys at last year’s Triple Crown celebrations at the school but I digress.
Let me start by saying that generally, the practice of recruiting for sports in the Jamaican school system is far from flawless. There have been many cases of kids being recruited into high school sports programs and have been exploited for their athletic prowess and discarded when they have outlived their usefulness, some leaving school almost functionally illiterate. That has happened and continues to happen in this country. The reasons for this are systemic and lie in the inequalities of the school system, but that is again a discussion for a different time. The fact is the structure at St. Georges does not encourage exploitation.
For the football program in the Bell era of this decade, the overwhelming majority of football student transfers into the school, have actually recruited the school and not the other way around. Many kids think, rightly or wrongly that they have a better chance of getting a football scholarship, getting noticed by the national program or just winning a Manning Cup title if they come to St. Georges. Every summer Mr. Bell is inundated by boys wanting to come and play for him. Many talented players are turned away by him, some reluctantly so because they do not meet the requisite academic standards to get into the school. Some even return after their grades improve hoping to get the opportunity to enroll in the school and become part of the program. The ones that make the grade and are accepted have for the most part benefitted from the move to come to St. George’s both in the classroom and on the football pitch.
This is not unlike children who get very good grades in CSEC at nontraditional or “not brand name” high schools and seek to transfer to Campion, Immaculate or St. George’s because they think they have a better CAPE science or Law program, or they have a better chance of picking up an academic scholarship or simply that those schools will look better on their resume. This happens every summer too, and kids are knocking on the doors of sixth forms all around transferring from their schools but no one thinks that is VULGAR.
Once academic standards have been met for the student athlete admitted, there are several initiatives in place to ensure that those standards are maintained. Saturday classes exist for members of the team particularly those preparing for external exams. Because of its success this initiative has now been adopted by other teams like track, in the school to ensure that the student athletes maintain their grades. Another initiative has been the introduction of a study hall before training one day a week to ensure that homework assignments are understood and completed. These initiatives are complemented by an extensive feeding and nutrition program as well as a medical support program. The offshoot of all of this is that the pass rate in external exams and the matriculation rate to 6th form and tertiary institutions among the schools sporting team members exceed the general rate for the school population. One indication of the success is that the members of the football team have obtained over twenty scholarships to local and overseas tertiary institutions in the past five years. This equates to approximately two thirds of the kids leaving the program, a rate that any institution anywhere would give their eye teeth for.
It has also been said that these transfers rob the opportunity of youngsters in the school from representing the school. This is also farcical. If a transfer comes in in 2nd to 5th form it can only be to fill a space vacated by someone who has left the school either by choice, migration, death etc or expulsion. That space would be filled by someone whether athlete or not and that person is ineligible to represent the school for one year. The question is why should that person entering, be denied an opportunity to compete for a place on a team in the school he attends? If the transfer enters in 6th form he can compete immediately. Are the persons saying that that is not right, also willing to say that none of the 40 girls entering StGC’s 6th form each year should be eligible to compete on its School’s Challenge Team or All Together Sing Choir?
Another fallacy that has been perpetuated is that it has been only kids of weak academic backgrounds that have joined the program, In the past few years some of the transfers that have made the headlines for the school on the football field have come into the school’s 6th form with up to eight ones at CSEC but again that doesn’t make for good headlines.
Has St. George’s had transfers that have failed? Certainly, just as it has had home grown 1st -5th formers that have also failed. It has however benefitted far more of those transferring in than it has failed. Is the StGC system perfect? Not at all, but let me see the system in our underfunded education system that is. Should there be transfers? Maybe, maybe not but as long as situations exist in life where people perceive they can improve their lot in life they are going to attempt to do so. I certainly don’t think the good name of this fine institution that has been improving the lives of young men for 160 years should be sullied for providing that opportunity.
Manager of StGC Track Team
StGC Class of 1978