Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships
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The ISSA Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships (better known as Champs) is an annual Jamaican high school track and field meet held by Jamaica's Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association. The five day event, held during the last week before Easter in Kingston, has been considered a proving ground for many 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 at the test cricket ground Sabina Park on June 29, 1910, in Kingston, Jamaica. Loosely modelled after the school athletic sports at British public schools such as Eton and Harrow, the event quickly gained popularity among the Jamaican 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 re-emerging 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) having the longest boys’ winning streak and Vere Technical winning the girls division the most times in a row (1979–1993). In its history, only Excelsior High School and St. Jago High have ever won both boys’ and girls’ divisions at Champs. The feat has never been accomplished in the same year. St Hilda's Diocesan High School in St Ann was the first school to win the girls championship.
ISSA and GMA
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 five days, beginning with field events and ending with all relays.
The Games Mistresses Association (GMA) of Jamaica has been led by Presidents including Joyce Taylor, Barbara Jones and Joan Lloyd-Hudson. Lloyd-Hudson took over the Presidency from Barbara Jones and served for two years. She improved the operations of the championship and negotiated a sponsorship deal with MILO. The Presidents are selected by a national election, Jamaican physical education high school teachers gather in Kingston annually for the elections. Among the responsibilities of the GMA are management of girls' sports on a national level, including the physical education curriculum.
The GMA merged with ISSA in 1999 after several years of discussion with the principals of the nation's high schools. Some supporters of the continuation of a GMA-led girl's champs thought the move was purely a financial one. Others believed the ISSA group wanted to have full control of both boys and girls champs which would allow more effective planning of the championships.
The girls and boys championships are the biggest track and field event involving high school students anywhere in the world. These events are planned around high school students and often attract college coaches from around the world. Many of these students receive college scholarships (outside of the country) on the track during the meet.
After the 4-day championship, the students in their home schools, prepare to go the Penn Relays in the USA where they often dominate all the sprint events. Those schools who may have lost a particular event at the Girls or boys championship look forward to a second opportunity at the Penn relays.
The merged Champs is now a five-day event, 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
Competitions takes place in 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, 3000 m (girls only), 5000 m, 4 × 100 m, 4 × 400 and medley relays, hurdles – 110 m, 100 m, 70 m (girls only), high jump, long jump and triple jump, pole vault, discus throw, shot put, javelin throw and the heptathlon.
Numerous students who have competed at the Champs meeting have gone on to global success. Triple Olympic/World gold medalist and world record holder Usain Bolt 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 defeats in the lower age groups at the meet before finally winning for their school teams. Three-time 100 m world record-holder and World/Olympic gold medalist (4 × 100 m) Asafa Powell competed, but never became a household name at the high school level because he was disqualified in the Class 1 100m final. The 2016 Double Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson also competed, only ever finishing fourth in the 100 m at the Class 2 level. 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 high school 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. 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 migrating to the US in 1997.
- Excelsior High School
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2004-04-23. Retrieved 2009-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Macdonald, Herbert. History of the Inter Secondary Schools Championship Sports. ISBN unknown