Editorial

New season, new hopes for schoolboy football

Saturday, August 24, 2019

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Believe it or not, a whole year has passed and the start of the Under-19 schoolboy football season is just two weeks away.

The ISSA/Digicel Manning Cup and the ISSA/WATA daCosta Cup for urban and rural schools, respectively, will begin on September 7 with the usual frenetic spectator support across the country.

Readers will recall that last season a highly talented Clarendon College squad won the rural area daCosta Cup as well as the all-island Olivier Shield, beating Manning Cup (urban) champions Kingston College.

Cornwall College took the Champions Cup which was competed for by the top schools.

Charlemont High and Hydel High won knockout titles, the rural area Ben Francis Cup and urban Walker Cup, respectively, after unpopular modification of both competitions — a bid by organisers to reduce workload for the young footballers — ruled out the strongest teams.

Mr Keith Wellington, who took over from Dr Walton Small as president of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) in mid-June, tells us he believes the 2019 season will be “special”.

This newspaper has often found it necessary to applaud ISSA for its management of schools sports going back more than 100 years.

We know it's no easy task and we appreciate the pledge from Mr Wellington — who has been vice-president of ISSA for several years — that he will be striving “to ensure that every 'I' is dotted and every 'T' is crossed”.

Mr Wellinton also tells us that he will be working “with... various partners to enhance the development of student football on and off the field”.

There can be no overstating the importance of the schools' leagues to Jamaica's football. In the world's developed football-playing countries, young talent is usually honed and nurtured in academies run by professional clubs.

In the absence of that professional structure, Jamaican schools have had to play a critical nurturing role.

A major difficulty is that schools only have a three-month window — from early September to early December — for their football competitions. That's obviously not enough time for young footballers aiming to fulfil and maximise their true potential.

Deficiencies from the current system quickly come to the fore when Jamaica age-group teams find themselves in competition at the regional and international level.

Mr Wellington and his team will doubtless be exploring ways to improve and expand that which exists.

The truth though, is that school competitions as currently structured can only achieve so much and no more.

Soon, it seems to us, ways will have to be found to build proper professional structures for our young footballers, without compromising their formal education.

All that said, we applaud the continuation of the initiative of telecoms company Digicel to continue with former football star Mr Ricardo Fuller as a mentor and guide for players.

From all reports Mr Fuller has had a useful impact.

This newspaper also wishes to applaud the intention to, as much as possible, accommodate schoolboy football matches on the best available fields.

Progress in this regard has been slower than is ideal. But, again, we know challenges abound in terms of cost and opportunity.

As we have done previously in this space, we urge sponsorship partners, government and the schools themselves to do all in their power to improve football infrastructure — not least playing surfaces.


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