Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships
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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 in Kingston, has been considered a proving ground for many successful Jamaican athletes
The Championships began as a standardized sports day for six of Jamaica’s oldest high schools, Potsdam (now Munro College), St. George’s College, Jamaica College, the Wolmer’s School, New College and Mandeville Middle Grade School. Originally known as the Inter-Secondary School Championship Sports, rules and staging of the event were managed by an Organizing Committee comprising the headmasters of the six boys’ schools and was first chaired by William Cowper, headmaster of Wolmer’s. A cadre of volunteers consisting of coaches, sports masters and others served as timekeepers, starters, referees and other meet officials.
The first Boys’ Champs began just after noon at test cricket ground Sabina Park on June 29, 1910 in Kingston, Jamaica. Loosely modeled after the school athletic sports at British public schools such as Eton and Harrow, the event quickly gained popularity among Jamaica’s sport-loving public. Over six previous years, fans had attended a boys’ track meet in which athletes were given handicaps according to age, reputation and overall appearance – as in a horse race – but this format was discontinued in 1910 when new rules and a new trophy were introduced.
There is evidence of a Girls’ Athletics Championships as early as 1914 in Kingston, but after reemerging under different organizations in the 1940s, 1957, then 1961, the girls’ event had an unbroken run since being managed by the Games Mistresses Association (founded 1963), a national organization of physical education teachers.
Only sixteen schools have ever won a boys’ or girls’ championship, with Kingston College (1962–1975) boasting the longest boys’ winning streak and Vere Technical winning the girls division the most times in a row (1979–1993). In a hundred years, only Excelsior High and St. Jago High have ever won both boys’ and girls’ divisions at Champs. The feat has never been accomplished in the same year.
In 1999, after years of deliberation between the ISSA and GMA, and precipitated by shrinking revenues particularly at Girls’ Champs, the GMA ceded control of the girls’ event to ISSA. The two meets are now staged together over four days, beginning with field events and ending with all relays.
The merged Champs is now a four-day extravaganza, featuring thousands of Jamaican athletes competing in four age classes for girls and three for boys as follows:
Class 1 : under 19
Class 2 : under 16
Class 3 : under 14
Class 1 : under 19
Class 2 : under 17
Class 3 : under 15
Class 4 : under 13
Competition takes place in 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 3000m (girls only), 5000m, 4x100m, 4x400 and medley relays, hurdles – 110m, 100m, 70m (girls only), high jump, long jump and triple jump, pole vault, discus, shot put and javelin (girls only) and the heptathlon.
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 medalist 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 medalist (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.
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.
Although the fierce competition developed world-class talent such as Olympic stars Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley, Una Morris and Vilma Charlton, then Lennox Miller, Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, Champs was virtually unknown to mainstream international media until the emergence of a disproportionate number of world-class sprinters from Jamaica in the Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships in Athletics. American college coaches in particular were very aware of the richness of the competitor pool, since they annually traveled to Kingston to scout for junior college and NCAA-level talent. In fact, several top performers at Champs such as British high jumper Germaine Mason are former Jamaican high school stars. Jamaican-born American sprinter Sanya Richards competed at the meet for Immaculate Conception High School before immigrating to the USA in 1997.
- Macdonald, Herbert. History of the Inter Secondary Schools Championship Sports. ISBN unknown