Demar Robinson, ISSA , Calabar High School and the Jamaica Athletic Contradiction
By :Donovan Reynolds Independent Writer.
There are countless myths and realities associated with the daily lives of Jamaican high school student-athletes with which most persons may be unaware. For example, many individuals perceive that student-athletes in Jamaica have all their needs met in their academic and personal environments, such as having preferential treatment in class scheduling, access to funding streams that is unavailable to typical students and a broad base of support from athletic supporters in the Business in community in Jamaica.
Demar Robinson of Calabar high -a former tripel jump champion and Odean Skeen of Wolmers Boys School must be a broken young men today- failed by ISSA and the schools and country that they once represented. Skeen was disqualified for a false start in the Class One 100m final at last year’s ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium was to be his final individual appearance at the over a century old event. According to ISSA rules, student athletes must maintain a 45 per cent average in at least four subjects and an attendance record of 80 per cent in the school year to be eligible to represent the school in any sports under the ISSA umbrella. Skeen, who was a surprise third in the boys’ 100m at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain, last year, was expected to feature in what is expected to be a mouth-watering Class One boys’ 100m final against defending champion Delano Williams of Munro College, and Odail Todd of Green Island High. The Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships (better known as the Champs) is an annual Jamaican multi-sport high school athletics meet held by Jamaica’s Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association. The four day event, held during the last week before Easter every year in Kingston, is considered a proving ground for many successful Jamaican athletes most of them from poor backgrounds who see the championships as a way to becoming professional athletes.
The last athletic championship held in 2012 was won by Calabar the boys from Red Hills Road who have a proud record of winning those championships and the Jamaican School challenge Quiz in one scoop. The road to Champs is now even more of a proving ground in preparation for world-class competition, but there is no guarantee that talented teens will shine through immediately. Triple Olympic/World gold medallist and world record holder Usain Bolt, for example, first came to the fore in 2002, after failing to win any events in the Class 3 age group. Olympic champions Veronica Campbell-Brown, and Shelly-Ann Fraser suffered crushing defeats in the lower age groups at the meet before finally winning for their school teams. Three-time 100m world record-holder and World/Olympic gold medallist (4x100m) Asafa Powell competed, but never became a household name at the high school level because he was disqualified in the Class 1 100m final. So Maybe and I say “maybe”- Odean Skeen has a flicker of hope- if the dust settles in his favour. Other top performers at Champs who have gone on to excel on the world stage include Michael Frater, Bert Cameron, Melaine Walker, Winthrop Graham, Beverly McDonald, Maurice Wignall, Juliet Cuthbert, Sandie Richards and Raymond Stewart. All of these successful athletes have paid the price for mixing academic life with the rigours of academic work is a difficult balancing act. Let’s face it making the transition from High school athletic prodigy to a successful professional athlete is a a cat herding exercise.
Behind the glitter of an envious championship belies the usage and disappointments of a number of athletes who suffer from undiagnosed learning difficulties are overworked by pushy coaches and discarded when they don’t meet the eligibility criteria set by ISSA which is a 45 % academic average in at least four subjects and a 85% school attendance rate. These athletes come from a society where two third of the general population is living below the poverty line as stipulated by the United nation and a colonial standard education system that is woefully underfunded due to the country high debt to GDP ratio which currently is estimated at a whopping 140%.In addition the countries children Services is lacking the investment needed to target and provide support young persons who are vulnerable to the difficulties associated with learning difficulties. There is an archaic understanding about young persons with learning difficulties in Jamaica they are seen as disruptive and lacking in ambition and are cruelly labelled as “a dunce”. This stigma is morally objectionable students likeDemar and Odean is expected on top of their hectic training schedule to achieve academically alongside students that are way above their average who shame them because they are unable to keep pace with their normal student peers without Learning support and psychology input. No wonder children with undiagnosed learning difficulties experience low self-esteem and are more vulnerable to truancy and the allure of maladaptive behaviours.
Learning disabilities, or learning disorders, are an umbrella term for a wide variety of learning problems. A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation. Young persons with learning disabilities aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently. This difference affects how they receive and process information. Simply put, children and adults with learning disabilities see, hear, and understand things differently. This can lead to trouble with learning new information and skills, and putting them to use. The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking. Learning disabilities look very different from one child to another. One child may struggle with reading and spelling, while another loves books but can’t understand math. Still another child may have difficulty understanding what others are saying or communicating out loud. The problems are very different, but they are all learning disorders.
It can be tough to face the possibility that your child has a learning disorder. No parents want to see their children suffer. You may wonder what it could mean for your child’s future, or worry about how your child will make it through school. Perhaps you’re concerned that by calling attention to your child’s learning problems he or she might be labelled “slow” or assigned to a less challenging class. I have two sons with learning difficulties so I understand the challenges faced by parents. I was maths dyslexic when I attended Calabar where Demar is attending and it was a frustrating and dehumanising experience for me. The important thing to remember is that most young persons like Demar with learning challenges are just as smart as everyone else. They just need to be taught in ways that are tailored to their unique learning styles. By learning more about learning disabilities in general, and your child’s learning difficulties in particular, you can help pave the way for success at school and beyond.
On my last visit to Calabar in February this raised the issue with the Guidance Counsellor and John Messam the hard working President of Calabar old boy association about the need to support young persons at risk of social exclusion as a result of attention deficit disorder, learning difficulties poverty and social exclusion .I was very lucky to have a supportive mother who had the patience to nurture me through the disappointments of struggling with learning difficulty. Today I have a successful career and mentor a number of University and college students in the UK that I shepherded trough the difficult but necessary terrain of learning difficulties. I have raised this issue to shed the spotlight on ISSA to positively discriminate in favour of athletes with learning difficulties. So that they may receive support with diagnosis, extra support and practical assistance that will enable them to meet a reasonable set an academic criterion which is a well-accepted welfare principle that needs to be applied.
To conclude ,we have to collectively advise ourselves as parents and professionals in the Health and Education sector -that a joined up approach is necessary to save young persons at risk of scuppering their hope and dreams due to a lack of proper assessment, intervention and planning for the future of young people with learning difficulties. Let’s put an end to the “worthless dunce myth”. This writer in principle is in favour of a good support system for student-athletes in Jamaican High schools. While also, endorsing an educational experience that is integrated across a range of activities, and such experiences should ideally facilitate effective transitions into academic and community life for the student.
Donovan Reynolds is a Blogger and Independent Writer. He is a British based Social Worker and Human rights Activist. He has an interest in Politics, Culture, Human Rights and International Development issues. Readers of this blog may add their comments or critique at the space provided on this blog .Or alternatively they may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org/ or dannygerm@twitter