GSSSA Track and Field Championships get underway tomorrow

One of the premier high school athletic competitions in the country is just a day away, set for Wednesday to Friday at the new Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

Back to defend their junior and senior titles at the 27th Annual Government Secondary Schools Sports Association (GSSSA) Track and Field Championships are the C.H. Reeves Raptors and the C.R. Walker Knights and they are expected to receive stiff competition from the other schools.

The Knights are gunning for a fifth straight title on the senior side, but will have to do so without the services of former head coach Ednol Rolle this year, while the Raptors are looking to win a second consecutive junior title and 12th in the past 13 years after their run of 10 in a row was cut short by the A.F. Adderley Tigers two years ago. Now, they are looking to start a new streak.

Joining the Knights on the senior side are the C.I. Gibson Rattlers, the C.C. Sweeting Cobras, the C.V. Bethel Stingrays, the Doris Johnson Mystic Marlins, the R.M. Bailey Pacers, the Government High School (GHS) Magic and the Anatol Rodgers Timberwolves. Along with the Raptors and Tigers, the T.A. Thompson Scorpions, the D.W. Davis Royals, the L.W. Young Golden Eagles, the H.O. Nash Lions, the S.C. McPherson Sharks and the Timberwolves will contest the junior championship. The three-day event will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Friday. The opening ceremony is set for 10 a.m. on Thursday.

Once again, the Department of Education and the National Sports Authority (NSA) have come on board as partners in the staging of the event.

“I could tell you that it is going to be three days of very exciting competition between the schools. Everyone seems ready to compete and go out there and give it their all,” said GSSSA President Varel Davis on Monday. “We just need to get our athletes names out there and let them know that there are tremendous opportunities through track and field. The excitement is definitely there. We expect a lot of our athletes to qualify for international meets. We have a lot of good athletes in the government schools who we feel could make the CARIFTA team and we are looking forward to them qualifying this week.”

Once again, the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA), through its coaches association, has established stringent qualifying standards for this year’s CARIFTA Games, and once again, they are taking a hardline approach in terms of athletes making the team. Only qualifying athletes will be considered. The 49th CARIFTA Games is set for the Easter holiday weekend, April 11-13 in Hamilton, Bermuda, and so far, 16 local athletes have qualified.

Davis said that with those standards serving as a benchmark for the athletes, and with an opportunity to make other national teams as well, she expects this version of the championships to be fierce and very competitive. She said that school spirit among the competing schools appears to be prevalent and growing.

“Everyone wants to overthrow the champions, who at this time, are the Raptors and the Knights. The other schools are training hard, every day to beat those two schools, and that creates for good competition,” she said.

For the third year in a row, the meet will be held over three days as opposed to it being spilt into two separate meets over four days in the past. One of the meet organizers, also a coach at GHS, Fritz Grant, said that one of the reasons for the change is to allow the senior athletes to recover in time in between their respective events. Both juniors and seniors will be in action from Wednesday. The junior competition ends on Thursday, and the seniors will run until Friday.

C.R. Walker Principal T. Nicola McKay is confident of their ability to successfully defend their title, even without former head coach Ednol Rolle, who left the school after leading them to four straight titles to become the athletics head coach at the University of The Bahamas (UB).

“We have a very disciplined team that would have been practicing year round and we’re ready to defend our title,” said McKay. “I know that we’re going to be as ready as we possibly can. For the past two years, the C.I. Gibson Rattlers have been right there. They are coming, so we have to make sure that we are on top of our game. Mr. Oembler [C.I. Gibson Principal Herbert Oembler] gave me a wicked smile the last time that I saw him, so I know they are coming for us. We have to be sharp to successfully defend our title. We’re going to do our best to win. Ednol Rolle is one of the best and we lost him to UB but you cannot stand in the way of progress for a young man and we certainly understand that. We’re still looking forward to his help at times in pursuit of excellence.”

McKay said they’re certainly looking to win another title despite losing Rolle. They are now guided by Akia Rose and Tia Rolle.

Prior to GHS, Fritz Grant served as the head coach for the C.H. Reeves Raptors, leading them to numerous junior titles in the 27-year history of the event. The Raptors is easily the winningest school in the history of the junior championships, having accumulated more than 20 titles since its inception.

Grant now serves as an assistant coach with the GHS Magic who are led by Head Coach Leroy Thompson. Grant is working with the under-20 boys.

“We are going to be very competitive this year. Right now, we’re trying to develop that hunger in the kids because that is important,” said Grant. “You have to want to win and we want our athletes to have that desire, It’s going to come down to how well we execute. We’re looking to represent the school well and be competitive in all of the events. We’re looking forward to an exciting competition.

“To beat a team like C.R. Walker, you have to be consistent – have two athletes in almost every event and be able to score points. We are working toward that. It’s a strategy and the kids have to buy into it. To beat a champion is something that you’re going to have to work at and earn. It’s going to take a total team effort, and we are working toward that. It’s all about inspiring that athlete to compete. We’re looking forward to good competition.”

Representing the Raptors was assistant coach Thurman Johnson. They are led by Head Coach Rashad McKenzie.

“We are coming out hot and ready and pumped up. We’re champions and we’re ready to defend our title,” said Johnson. “We’re coming fully loaded, so you have to be on top of your game to beat us or to even come close to us. A.F. surprised us in 2018, because of certain situations that transpired. That won’t happen this year. We have been preparing our kids for several months now. Come Wednesday, its showtime.

“Our kids love track and field and they embrace working hard to get a desired result. We as coaches do what is necessary to get them in the best possible shape for us to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning championships. This year, we are really excited. We have fire in our eyes and we are ready to go.”

NSA General Manager Quinton Brennen said it is their intention to make the three-day meet as attractive as possible. They are appealing to the general public to come out and support the hundreds of talented junior athletes.

“We would have partnered with the GSSSA and the principals association to stage this event, and what we are trying to do is to find a way to bring the excitement back to this event,” said Brennen. “It’s all about appealing to the general public to come out and support these kids. We want a better level of support. The athletes are there and the outstanding performances will be there and this is gearing up to be an awesome event. Also, we wanted to remove the stigma of the new stadium being off limits, and we’re trying to add to the level of excitement back. Nothing is wrong with the old Thomas A. Robinson Stadium. It’s just that everyone wants to be here in the new stadium on the blue track. We’re trying to do all that we can to make sure that this event is the best that it could possibly be.”

Last year, the Knights prevailed by about 100 points over the C.I. Gibson Rattlers. On the junior side, the Raptors held off the Tigers by about 70 points to take that title back after the Tigers shocked them in 2018.

The theme for this year’s meet is: “One team, one vision, igniting athletic success.” Scores of junior and senior athletes are expected to take part.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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