Competitive field for today's Western Champs with a differenceThursday, April 29, 2021
MONTEGO BAY, St James — It will be Western Champs with a difference today, as the County of Cornwall Athletics Association (COCAA)- organised event will be held at the St Elizabeth Technical Sports Complex in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, starting at 8:30 am.
The event, which has been held over three days in February for the past 20-odd years, has been reduced to one day due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will also see a new format.
St Elizabeth Technical High (STETHS), the boys' defending champions, will start as favourites to win both sections, with the girls' champions, Rusea's High, opting to enter a small team of 12 athletes, mostly seniors on their way out.
Both sections — boys and girls — will see 17 teams each participating. Nineteen schools are down to take part, with teams ranging from just one athlete, to a high of 52.
Western Champs is one of three regional high school track and field championships. The others, Central and Eastern championships, were held over the past week, after they were postponed when the Government tightened the COVID-19 restrictions.
Stephen Smith, president of COCAA and chairman of the organising committee, described the compacted event as “odd,” but said he is expecting top-class competition as the athletes seek to qualify for the Inter-secondary Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) set for next month at the National Stadium.
Under the qualifying rules for the ISSA Champs that were modified for this year, the top-two finishers in track events from the 100m to the 800m, and both sprint and intermediate hurdles, will qualify for Champs, with the rest of the field to be filled out by the next fastest times.
In the longer track events and the field events — jumps and the throws — the top 12 in each class islandwide will qualify for Champs, with each school restricted to just two athletes per event.
According to Smith, after getting accustomed to a three-day event spread over a week, “it feels a bit odd to be having a one-day championships.”
“However, based on the new norm and the situation arising from the pandemic, we are happy. Last year we had a good championships, but did not get to have the ISSA National Championships, but this year, knowing the ups and downs that we have had all year and knowing that the athletes have been training very hard, and they know that they will get the chance to showcase their skills in the region and later at the national champs,” he argued.
Smith said the format would be new, as the races will run as timed finals, “but the athletes are prepared for it and will have to come with their 'A' game from the start.”
Reynaldo Walcott, the head coach of the STETHS teams, said they have “a reasonable chance of taking both titles and we will make every attempt to do so.”
On the boys' side he said, “retaining any title that one currently has is significant, since you don't know how long you can hold it for...so I would say it is one of the priorities, as I do respect and appreciate the regionals.”
Walcott said while he is happy for the older athletes to get the chance to compete, “I do believe all age groups should get a chance to compete as without foundation we risk collapse of the whole house.”
Roderick Myles, the coach of the Rusea's High team, said given the cut backs at the Lucea, Hanover-based school, the team has been trimmed down and is being funded by the parents of the athletes.
“We are not prepared to defend the title (girls) as it was the parents who are basically running the programme this year, and we only have 12 girls and we can't defend the title with that so we are focusing on those who are leaving high school and seeking college scholarships,” Myles told the Jamaica Observer West.
He said it was not easy for the parents, but “they are the ones who are concerned about their children leaving for college and seeing them put out the effort and want them to do their best.”
Despite the size of his team, Myles said he is expecting the athletes to perform creditably today, as they had been preparing well.
“We have some outstanding athletes. Raheim Scott and Devonte Haywood have been Champs winners, Salieci Myles has also won Champs medals and she has experience,” Myles noted.
“It will be the first Champs for Aaliyah Francis, but she ran 52 seconds for the 400m and 23.8 for the 200m this year; Lavanya Williams has led both 100m and 200m in Class 3 and we have a few throwers and hurdlers, so we are a small but compact and talented team, so I am expecting good things from them and they should win their events based on the results so far,” he argued.
He added that while Rusea's is not in the race for the title, “we are focussing on some individual events, but whoever wins we will be happy for them, but we have a different focus this year.”
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