St. Jago High School was founded in 1744. It is without doubt one of the leading Track and field institutions in Jamaica. The school has the distinction along with Excelsior High, of being the only institutions, to win both categories at the prestigious Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys’ and Girls’ championships (‘Champs’).
St. Jago High has won the Boys’ championships on two occasions and the Girls’ championships four times.
It is therefore no surprise that for a number of years the school has been producing outstanding athletes that have gone on to represent Jamaica at major global track and field championships. The impressive list includes Bertland Cameron, Melaine Walker, Yohan Blake, Nickel Ashmeade, Kenia Sinclair, Delloreen Ennis, Michelle Freeman, Juliet Campbell, Donovan Powell (Asafa’s brother) and Kerron Stewart.
More recently, the school has turned out 2013 400m World Youth champion Martin Manley, Rio Olympic men’s mile-relay silver medallist Nathon Allen, 2014 200m Youth Olympic champion Natalliah Whyte, 2016 men’s 100m World U-20 finalist Raheem Chambers and Kimone Shaw, the current girls’ class 2 & 4 100m record-holder at the ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ championships.
These athletes can provide countless stories of their struggles, sacrifices and triumphs with limited resources during their youthful days. These are problems faced by many high school athletes nowadays. However, times are changing and proper infrastructure is one of the critical components in moving forward in track and field in this era.
In St. Jago’s case they thought brighter days were ahead. In August 2015, the spirits of the coaching staff and indeed the athletes were lifted to cloud nine when they were promised that they would have a proper training facility by February 2016. According to a well-placed source who contacted Trackalerts.com, the promise came from an organisation involved in the development of sports in Jamaica. Unfortunately, so far all that can be seen at the school after a year is foundation work.
During this time, the school’s preparation for Boys’ and Girls’ championships was severely impacted. The source said “the track teams were forced to train at different locations including the Spanish Town Prison Oval, G.C Foster College and the Stadium East. This created commuting challenges as well as anxious moments for parents and guardians who waited longer hours for their children to return home at nights.”
The girls’ team in particular had to walk in the evenings from the school to the Spanish Town Prison Oval and back. That journey is almost a mile. Additionally, the prison oval facility has no changing rooms for the girls.
Although the school motto says Labor Omnia Vincit– “Labour/Hard Work conquers all,” the St. Jago girls do not wish to repeat this laborious and apprehensive exercise for the new term.
Last season, the school’s athletes suffered a record number of injuries. The list included the usually immune middle and long distance runners. The extent of the injuries was confirmed by the invoice received from the physiotherapist which was twice the amount of the previous season according to the source.
Another source inside the school elaborated that the completion date of the training facility in 2016 became a moving target. “When February came around, the school was told it would be ready by April, then in April it was pushed back to July and from July to the end of September,” said the highly placed individual.
The repair work is now looking like several ‘false starts’. Perhaps the contractor ran into unforeseen difficulties that were not identified in the feasibility study (if one was done).
This website further understands that parents have indicated in no uncertain terms to the coaching staff that if their children don’t train at the school premises in the evenings they are going to pull them from the team. “So far since the new school term began five female athletes have been pulled including three medallists from ‘Champs’ 2016,” said the source.
“A sixth athlete had withdrawn from the squad but she had a change of heart after the head coach convinced her about things getting better soon.”
Interestingly, this summer, prison officials told the school that they can no longer use their ‘facilities’. “They told us they needed their field to play cricket and we should remove all our equipment such as hurdles, cones and starting blocks at once,” the source said. “We felt like squatters being evicted.”
The school is now forced to look elsewhere to train. At the moment, the nearby Rivoli Football Club field is providing temporary assistance for most of the school’s sports programmes.
However, the Rivoli Football Club will be preparing for a tournament shortly and is going to need full access to their field which could lead to another setback for St. Jago’s track preparation. The school’s athletics programme is running out of options and is aware that it cannot continue to be all over the place like a rotating water sprinkler.
The situation is now ‘on a knife edge’ and there have been some whispers that if things don’t change quickly the school will not risk the health and safety of its student athletes. The programme is in limbo and there is a strong possibility that St. Jago High could sit out next year’s ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ Championships.
Trackalerts.com, the leading Caribbean track and field news website, tried unsuccessfully for days to get a comment from St. Jago High girls’ head coach Keilando Goburn on the current situation.
At the most recent ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ Championships in March 2016, St. Jago High girls placed third (241.5 pts) and the boys fourth (175 pts). It would be most unfortunate if the school is missing in action from the 2017 championships.