It’s 8:20 p.m. on March 27th,, a balmy Saturday night. The National Stadium is fully lit and full. The grandstand, bursting at its seams, is teaming and on its feet. In addition, the entire stadium is eagerly awaiting the grand finale of Champs 100 - the boys’ 4 x 400m relay.
Like a boxing event announcer, Fortis Ed Barnes is priming the some 30,000 plus spectators. More to the point, he bellows: "Ladies and gentlemen, the winner takes all". Out of nostalgia, Ed asks: “Are we in it?” To many, that `we' sounded like a Fortis `we'.
Sadly, Ed could not elicit from the KC supporters present, the: `Well I guess. Rah-rah KC, yes-yes-yes,’ retort, he might have been hoping for. What he got instead, was boisterousness from Wolmers and Calabar supporters - their drummers drumming, and their inflated `clappers’ clapping. They could smell blood. And that blood ran purple.
Fortis supporters had already checked our programs and our guts, and many among us, were scratching their heads, and hissing our teeth in despair. Not even Tonia Harding and her strong-armed men could have helped. The more reflective and realistic among us, answered Ed’s open-ended question under our collective breath, with a: `No we’re not. Rah-rah-KC. we have to re-plot’.
Going into the last race of the Championships, and after 37 finals, Wolmers and Calabar were tied on 198.5 points followed by Kingston College alone in third with 186, Jamaica College 151 and St. Jago - 102. Whoever finished higher between the two perched at the top, would take the crown. The Wolmers quartet of ---ran 3:17.06 to finished second to Vere Technical's 3:10:81 to get 10 points. This distanced them from Calabar who finished 7th, picking up only 2 points. The large maroon & gold flag which had blanketed a seating section in the north east corner of the bleachers, somehow made its way onto the field, chased by team members and handlers cavorting and trampolining on their way. It all made for a marvelous sight.
Casting of the Die
Some say that the meet turned shortly after 3:30 p.m on Saturday, when Calabar's Deuce Carter and Jerome Myers failed to finish the 110 M hurdles. The former could was disqualified after massacring the ninth hurdle, and the latter pulled out after clearing the fourth. This cleared the way for Wolmer’s Kamal Fuller and Kevaughn Allen to win and place third respectively, with KC’s Lemmar Wilson separating them.
But for me, the turnnig point might have come an hour-and-a-half later. That was when Wolmer's had come one-two in the Class I 200M final. Because, the manner in which they did it, set the tone for the rest of the meet. It was done with ease, in style, with fuel to burn, and with a lovely display of sportsmanship. Even though after that race, the leader board might have changed hands back and forth, psychologically, that race tipped things and sent a message to the rest of the schools. It was more telling than the 16 points they collected.
The Sporting Extol
Wolmer’s captain and Class I athlete Dwayne Extol had a wonderful meet. On the Friday, he collected silver in the 400m hurdles in 51.67secs, and then on Saturday, led all the way in lane 8 to capture gold in the Class I 400 m in 47.43 sec, clipping the Vere Technical duo of Demar Muray and pre-meet favourite Jermaine Gayle who crossed in respective times of 47.53 and 47.61 secs.
In the age of `me-myself-and-I' it was as refreshing as the gentle breeze that blew, to see Dwayne allowing his pal Julian Forte to take gold in the Class I 200 metres in 21.32 secs, while he himself eased up to cross in 21.38. Apparently, both Extol and Forte had made a pact before the race which the former was leading up to about the 180 metre mark. Under the bright lights, and buoyed by the Wolmerian cheers, Extol could easily have reneiged and barrelled through the tape. In unspoken words, Extol seemed to have been saying:`I will dictate how we win. We will win this Champs in style, and with grace and class.' Few are blessed with this sort of equanimity, especially under the lights, and backed by a pulsating crowd. Of it, Betty Ann Blaine wrote in the March 30th Jamaica Observer: "The display revived my hope in the future of Jamaica." And rightfully, she went on to note, "It was a good lesson in friendship and loyalty. It was more important, a lesson about integrity, and one that should be an example for all of us."
Fittingly, the lad was there at the end of the meet, powering his side to the Championship by anchoring the 4 x 400 M relay with his leg of 47.89 secs to take second place. That was enough. And the fat lady sang.
For the most part, the Wolmer's supporters were in the peanut gallery in the bleachers at the 300 meter bend, far from the privileged seating blocks. They will surely be canvassing for an upgrade come next year. But as in life, it is better to be called up to a higher place, than to be relegated. And indeed, Wolmer's were called up.
“This win means a lot to me because, from I come we never win anything else apart from Colts football.” said Edson Hunt a Wolmer's fourth-former. They showed determination, grit and class - ualities reuisite of a champion - to lift the Mortimer Geddes trophy. Dr Wilton Small, the Wolmer’s principal remarked: “For the entire Wolmer’s family, it is something that is unbelievable. I’m getting calls from as far away as Australia non-stop. We emphasize the mixture between sports and academic performance.”
A mountain out of a molehill
Much - stoked by the March 30th Jamaica Gleaner Editorial (The shaming of Champs) - was made of the fact that KC's Johnathan Reid, on clearing 2.01metres to win the Class I high jump, mimicked a `gun salute’. The editorial characterized Mr. Reid's exuberance, as a `breach-of-contract' behaviour. If Champs 100 was not an amateur meet, and one which did not require of the schools or their representatives to sign contracts, I ask to be corrected.
My, my! The Mr. Reid could not be more than 18 years old. And if memory serves me right, even as early as in my school days some 40 years ago, the ratchet and the gun, were already being glorified in our society. So what's next? Will Mr. Usain Bolt be hauled up for slinging his imaginary arrows? Arrows too are deadly weapons. That’s why in the northern states of the United States, come autumn, game hunters must obtain licenses for using them. Because in addition to guns, they too bring home meat.
If anything, (and I am not even quite sure it would be necessary), Mr. Reid can be motioned aside, and be asked to refrain. At least, he is at a corrigible age. Who knows? Probably he was honoring my late geography teacher at KC - the affable Mr. Jones from Spanish Town, better known as `Wyatt Earp.'
Seriously though, one wonders if there's some larger plan afoot, to daub Kingston College as a gun-touting ragamuffin institution. That of course, will not work. Because, there are too many examples of KC alumni, who have, and still are contributing magnanimously, towards the betterment of society.
More to my concern, is the public display of dispicable behavior by grown men, KC alumni or not. Because, like oak trees, they are now unbendable.
Why did KC lose?
There’s the simple answer that KC did not get the points to win. In The Daily Observer’s March 30th issue Dania Bogle lifted the veil. She pointed to the fact that the school was relying on getting points in the Class II 110m hurdles, the long, and triple jumps. But both Stefan Fennell the favorite and Givonette Dennis did not deliver. “We were on target up until the Class II hurdles,” bemoaned KC’s head coach Michael Russell, who was counting on his school getting 15 points from that event. "Also, KC’s Jerome Wilson, favored in the long and triple jumps, came to the meet injured and could not perform," he said
Russell also cited the loss of Keiron Stewart and Andre Peart in the Class I 400m hurdles, as (quote): `another bitter pill to swallow.’ Track & Field stats man Hubert Lawrence went further. “Once KC lost the points in the hurdles, Champs became wide-open again…..”
However, in talking to some Fortis champions of the past, there were a couple of common themes running through their comments. These focused on preparation and `heart.’
“When last have you seen a KC man leading a race and other men run by him?” questioned an aghast looking Mabricio Ventura, when I visited with him the Sunday morning after. “To me, that might be telling the tale of a lack of fitness, or a lack of desire,” said the hero of the 1957 Champs, who gleaned 18 points from winning the Class II 100 and 200 yards in record times, the 440 yards, coming second in the 120 yards hurdles and the long jump, and anchoring the 4x110 sprint relay, to power Kingston College to victory that year.
Frank `Bowla’ Morant, who played all three major sports for KC in the mid-sixties, ran the 800 yards at Champs, and was in 1965, on the second Fortis track team to attend Penn Relays, said virtually the same thing. “These `new-breed’ of KC boys mightn’t have the belly, we had.” In the process, he lamented his loss in the half-mile to one Roven Locke years ago. ‘Yes, he beat Lloydie (McLean) and I. But not without us trying.”
Ventura also cited the fact that in certain events, some KC athletes mightn’t have ran smart races. “I saw guys fighting head-winds and burning out themselves, when they might have been better off running relaxed. You have to pick your spots to go flat out,” said one of Kingston College’s most versatile and successful all-round sportsmen. Mauve also noted two mess-ups on first-changes on 4 x 100 mrelay legs. "And that first change offers the clearest of sightings," he bemoaned.
Every Fortis stalwart I spoke to, questioned why certain tried-and-trusted build-up methods to Champs were shelved. “We have replaced Weekly Meets by Developmental Meets,” said Charlie Grant, brother of Jimmy Grant, KC’s ace track-star and in 1964, a member of the first high school team in the Caribbean to be invited to the Penn Relays. “And, can believe, that we no longer have a Sports Day?” he continued. “We need these Weekly Meets to develop the fortitude which our athletes can draw upon when things get tight,” Charlie noted.
This feeling was echoed by Mabricio Ventura: “When a fellow pulls up next to you, you have to dig deep. But, if it what you’re digging for isn’t there, then you are in problems,” Mauve said. “And the competition of Weekly Meets is designed to instill this,” he noted.
KC's coach Russell suggested in the Dania Bogle piece that he sensed a certain panic running through the squad when expected points did not materialize. “I had a meeting to try and comfort them and do what was necessary to relax them,” he noted. This may point to the fact that the experience of running under pressure, might have been lacking – a situation which the repetitiveness of Weekly Meets and a Sports Day might have offered the team from the south side of North Street.
Morant and Grant also alluded to the training regime. “Training is a serious business,” Frank Morant noted. “I was watching them train, and saw guys training with headsets on. To me it was like in some cases, guys were just going through the motions.” Charlie Grant also noted that (quote): “In some cases, discipline and preparation might have been lacking.”
`Teddy’ McCook a Fortis, president of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC), and former president of the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA) captured all of the above by saying in no uncertain terms, “We have got to get back to the doing the things that made us so successful in the past.”
In other words, we at Kingston College can not, `plant corn and expect to reap peas’.
The Wolmers Victory
Wolmers too had their share of misfortune when they dropped the baton in the Class I 4x100m heats, which they might have been destined to win. They also were expecting nine points from Ramone Bailey, whom they thought would win the triple jump and defend his title. That did not materialize. Yet, they held their nerve, dug deep and had other members of their 35-man squad put up their hands.
Catching up with Emile Spence, a Wolmerian, business development and research executive at Jamaica National Building Society, and long-time acquaintance, as the fat-lady was clearing her throat, he noted that if Wolmers were to win, it would not be a flash-in-the-pan. “We embarked on this 5-year program some years back. And if we win, it would be (just) reward for the careful planning and the near-flawless execution in this meet,” the lanky, and genial Heroes Circle alumnus said. “People talk about the impact MVP has on Wolmer's. But what they are forgetting, is that Wolmers in Francis, was where MVP originated.”
Indeed Wolmers would go on to win the Mortimer Geddes Trophy at Champs 100, gain their 12th lien on the event and end their 54-year drought. Dave Riley their head coach, pointed out how his team of 35, dug deep after receiving setbacks. “They really were exceptional in terms of performance and they really came out and did what they were prepared to do and even exceeded some of our expectations. I think we have a great team.”
The meet kicked off with the opening cermony on Tuesday, and among other activities included a torch run which began in Williamsfield, Manchester, and featuring several Jamaican Olympians, culminated. For the Boys', the pundits were favoring KC (210) to again hold off Calabar (209), and win for the 32nd time. And Wolmers (207), Jamaica Colege, and Monro, were expected to battle for third. For the Girls', Edwin Allen was favoured to pip Holmwood to ain their first lien, with Vere Technical and Manchester tussling for third. But, after Wednesday the first day of competition and the only male final - the Class I long jump, Wolmer's sent a stong signal by cleaning up. Kamal Fuller (7.45 metres) and Ramone Bailey (7.38 metres) gave their school 16 points, while KC's Rayon Walcott sprang 6.96 metres for 6th to tally 3 points. Wolmers' points on the board were fortified by ominous performances in the heats of some cruicial races.
But by Thursday night, after six finals, the leader board changed as Calabar, with one-two in both the Class I Discus and open Pole Vault, vaulted to 50 points with KC trailing in third with 32 points behind Wolmers (35). KC's points came from three third-place finishes: Oshane Harris whirled 53.57 metres in the Class I Discus. Xavier Boland vaulted 3.90 metres with the pole, and Rayon Walcott, after three of the seven heptathlon events amassed 4,255 points, behind St. Jago's Orain McLeggon (4,590) and Calabar's Rojay Dacres (4,352).
The day's Boys' honors went to Calabar. First, Chad Wright on his 19th birthday loosened the Class I discus a record 58.86 metres to beat teamamte and national record holder Traves Smike (58.68 metres). Then late in the afternoon, their Devon Dobson and Kazuma Davis pole vaulted 4.40 and 4.30 metres respectively in the open, for gold and silver. For the Girls', St. Hugh's Candicea Bernaud lived up her billing with a record-breaking first-hurl of 13.24 metres in the shot put open. This followed another record-breaking throw - her 46.76 metres in the Class I girls' discus, the day before. After five of six girls' finals for Thursday, Vere Technical led the girls' field with 28 points - 9 coming from Class III's Chennel Palmer clearing 1.7 metres in the high jump, followed St. Hugh's 24, and Wolmer's 20.
By Friday night, and at the end of Day 3 and with 16 finals completed, KC with 85 points, trailed Calabar by 21, and led Wolmers by 2. This was a bad day for `The College' as they were not in the medal hunt. In Julian Forte and Odean Skeen, Wolmers creamed the Class I and II 100 M in respective times of 10.49 and 10.46 secs. They also took the Class III long jump when Abraham Robertson leapt 6.93 metres. Talk of the day though, was young Kevaughn Rattray of St. Jago, who took the Class III 100 M in a record-setting 10.90 secs. The previous evening he had run 22.07 secs in the 200m semi-finals, also a record. Impressing, also, was Bellefield's Kemoy Campbell's record-breaking 1500 metre run, in 3:45.54. Similarly for the girls' Manchester High's Natoya Goule ran the 1500 m in the record-time of 4:29.81ahead of her teammate Sharlene Brown (4:43.18). And after 19 girls' finals on the penultimate day of the meet, Edwin Allen (111) were leading Holmwood by 8 points. In the process, their Sasha-Gay Marston broke the Class II discus with a toss of 45.65 metres, and Nikita Tracey the 400 m hurdles open in 57.42.
But Wolmers though in third, were ominously poised, as their bread & butter events on the track impended. "Don't worry man, I studied it last night. It's going to be close, but we will win," said Neville Oxford, as he cleared security before things got going on Saturday afternoon. Instinctively, this reminded a little of the late Dan Kelly at the Turntable Club soothing his patrons at two o'clock in the morning with, "Don't worry man, `Merri' (Winston Blake) soon come."
For KC, Lemmar Wilson (14.47secs) separated the Wolmers duo of Kamal Fuller (14.17) and Kevaughn Allen (14.50) in the Class I 110m hurdles, and in the Class I 800 metres, Donahue Williams (1:52.51) and Johwayne Hebert (1:53.15) placed second and third. Chadwick DaCosta (50.13 metres) collected the silver in the Class II discus, and then late in the evening, Johnathan Reid (2.10 metres) won the Class I high jump. But out the chute, the Wolmers captain galloped to take the Class I 400 metres, and Yanick Hart, the Class II 110 M hurdles in 13.95 secs. Then came the 200 M sprints and sadly, KC did not feature, as Wolmers in Forte, Extol and Skeene (in Class II), steam-rolled. Neither, as the curtain was coming down, did we feature in the relays.
Maroon was the color of the meet as the girls from Holmwood Technical dug deep to hold off a persistent Edwin Allen 273.22 to 258, and win their eighth straight championship. And that's theway it was.