With Penn Relays right around the corner, couldn't think of a better time to provide some insight on the greatest high school meet in the world (yes I'm biased...but that will be explained later), the Jamaican High School Boys & Girls Championships. I had the pleasure of returning to Jamaica in 2007 to witness Champs for the first time in 22 years. I'm showing my age, but when I last attended prior to 2007 I was a 14 year old 100m hurdler (everyone in Jamaica thinks they can sprint). As we have all witnessed at Penn Relays, the Jamaican contingent is not only strong on the track but also in the stands. As thrilling as that may be, it pales in comparison to what takes place at the high school championships in late March or Early April every year in Jamaica; picture 25,000 people at a high school meet with flags, drums and horns in a cheering frenzy; the fans are even more boisterous than what is seen in Philly at the Penn Relays. I had the pleasure of attending the 2007 Championships with a fellow GU Track Alum Rich Kenah (after a lot of persuading and promises of unlimited Jerk Chicken & Red Stripe) and we returned in March 2008 to witness some of the best competition seen at the high school level anywhere in the world.
So, why is this GU Track alum so excited about attending some high school meet in Jamaica?? Well, turns out I attended the prestigious Calabar High School prior to leaving Jamaica for the U.S. in 1986. Calabar had also not won the Championship since 1997 and what better time to go than to attend when Calabar returned to glory in 2007. And after being there in 2007 I had to return in 2008 (and I'll be back in 2009....don't tell my wife though). Plus, I'm a track and field fan that will travel (World Championships in Sevilla '99 & Paris 2003, US Olympic Trials 2004, just to name a few), so why not Jamaica as well?? It's much closer, cheaper, and I know my way around.
So back to some insider tips from what was witnessed at Jamaica's Boys & Girls Champs 2008: The numerous impressive results of the meet are too extensive t0 mention. Glimpse the results for yourself at http://www.jaaaltd.com/results/champs08/. Here are a few names that will be rolling off all tongues in Philly next weekend for the high school relay events; Calabar (with 2007 World Youth Junior Champion at 200m Ramone McKenzie...no relation); St. Jago (Yohan Blake...10.11 last year at the tender age of 17, along with Nickel Ashmeade who has already run 10.34 and 20.67 at 17 yrs. old), Kingston College, Holmwood (Dexter Lee, first Jamaican athlete with World 100m Gold medal at any level; World Youth Champion 2007). Jamaican High Schools are not only going to have a good showing in the sprints; the most dominant race for the Jamaican High Schools might in fact be the 4x800M (More coaches are finally convincing some of these kids that not every Jamaican is meant to be a sprinter). For Boys, three teams will go under 7:45.00 (my weather permitting prediction); Kingston College, Jamaica College, Calabar. Kingston College ran 7:42 to win last year…and they have the same team back this year. Haven’t run that fast so far this year due to injuries, but if they are all healthy they might go way below 7:40 which should be enough to win.
Let me not forget about the girls... Holmwood, Edwin Allen and Manchester High will be the Jamaican teams to contend with. Names to remember are Bobby Gaye Wilkins from Holmwood (400m & 800M High School champion; split 51:1 to anchor relay win at Champs; and can split 2:04), Natoya Goule from Manchester High.
Team to beat in the 4x800m for girls will be Manchester High. They have my favorite high school athlete from Jamaica right now (even with my former high school Calabar having a kid who has my last name...Ramone McKenzie). That would be Natoya Goule that I mentioned above. She ran 2:05:90 three weeks ago; the day before her 17th birthday. Her school Manchester High will likely run around 8:50.00. That should be enough to win, but Holmwood and Edwin Allen from Jamaica, and defending champions Eleanor Roosevelt from Maryland will not make it a cakewalk.
Ok...had enough talk about Jamaicans at Penn Relays?? Well, keep in mind quite a few of your fellow Hoyas have ties to Jamaica (and quite a few are still in the Georgetown record books, on top performance lists, and have been champions at the collegiate level and beyond). I'm proud to say AM started the trend (kinda...Paul Whittaker was before me but he was an American citizen) and I'm sure I wont be the last!!
Those that I know of:
Our very own Coach Scott McLeod (Jamaican parentage).
Paul Whittaker (800M)-(Jamaican parentage).
Yours truly, Alton McKenzie; Class of '93 (800M) - (Jamerican...yes Gags, finally a proud US citizen)
Maxine Clarke- 400m, 800M, 1500m...you name it - (also married to Jamaican 400M hurdler Ian Weakley)
Nadia McNeil- 400m Hurdler
Nikole Mitchell- 100m - (Jamaican Olympic & World Championship Bronze Medallist in 4x100m; Atlanta '96 and Stuttgart '93 respectively)
Nashville Peart- Sprints, LJ, TJ (Jamaican parentage).
Tyrona Heath -800M (Jamaican parentage).
Spenser Carter - Current Freshman Sprinter (Jamaican Parentage)...Gags will love this one.... his uncle is old GMU Coach Dalton Ebanks, who's of course Jamaican. :)
* Special mention goes to an adopted Calabar Alum Rich Kenah...he's looking to get dual American/Jamaican citizenship (picture is the evidence). If he could only figure out what the heck they were saying half the time in the National Stadium.