Many Vincentian nationals in the United States say it would, perhaps, be foolhardy to expect miracles from a relatively young school competing in just the third consecutive year in the prestigious Penn Relays Carnival in Philadelphia, Pa.
But, for nationals on a whole, the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) athletes’ participation in arguably the largest and most popular collegiate track and field event in the U.S. – among top schools in the U.S., the Caribbean and internationally – was just enough to make them evermore proud.
So, for the TSSS athletes’ bravery and tenacity, in the face of adversity, there was an overwhelming outpouring of patriotic fervor, as Vincentians in the U.S. got goose bumps, screamed their lungs out and proudly waved and displayed miniature and large national flags when the female and male teams took the tracks at the Franklin Field Stadium at the University of Pennsylvania from April 25-27.
A bus load of Vincentians, organized by the umbrella Vincentian group in the U.S., Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A. Inc. (COSAGO), and many others in cars took the two-hour-plus trek from New York.
They joined their compatriots from other major cities in the United States, such as Boston, Washington D.C., and even Philadelphia, in giving unconditional support to the lone Vincentian school in the three-day event.
Despite weather conditions, injury and technical flaws, the TSSS athletes still gave what has been described as a good account of themselves in the 119th Penn Relays.
In the 4x100m on April 25, the girls’ team of Kerina Hooper (running in her second Penn Relays), Adero De Silva, Nerisa Young and Lenisha Oliver placed third.
Later that day, in the 4x400m, the girls’ team, with Cassinique Richardson, minus Nerisa Young, clocked 4 min. 21 sec., despite injury to anchor De Silva, 15, who twisted her ankle on the top turn but still managed to limp over the finish line.
“If I had stopped, I would have felt ‘a way,’” De Silva told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview, over a sumptuous brunch for the athletes and New York-based supporters on April 28, at the Vincentian-owned Calabash Restaurant on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia.
“I had told the coach, if anything happened, I would continue running,” added De Silva, whose twin brother, Eresto, competed in the boys’ 4x400m.
“It’s a great experience,” continued Adero, who was voted Most Outstanding Female Athlete by Harry.
“I enjoyed coming here, and I wished everything could have ran better (better athletic performance), but everything does not happen at the same time,” said Adero, who also received an award for her performance and dogged determination from Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB), the New York-based Jamaican group that feeds over 500 Caribbean athletes during the Penn Relays.
On April 26, the boys’ 4x100m team – comprising Kemuel Forde, Rogike Thorpe, Dylan Carr and Neilo Thomas (voted Most Outstanding Male Athlete by Harry) – clocked 45.88 sec.
With greater Vincentian support on Saturday – in a stadium almost filled to capacity, with an attendance of 48,871, almost half the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines – the lion-hearted TSSS athletes’ started out well, leading the 4x400m heat at one stage, until a competitor fell among the pack and instantly put TSSS off-balance.
(Tournament organizers said the games attracted over 100,000 fans over the three days).
The team of Sean Shepherds, Thorpe, Thomas and Eresto De Silva, however, clocked 3 min. 36 sec.
Last year, the boys’ team triumphed in their 4x400m heat in 3 min., 29.79 sec.; and the girls’ won in their 4x100m heat in 50.39 sec.
The girls’ team also placed sixth in the 4x400m (4 min., 15 sec.), and the boys’ placed second in the 4x100m (44.37 sec.)
Harry agreed that last year’s performance was better than this year’s but attributed this year’s to a number of factors.
“We have a new bunch of guys (and gals) and the weather contributed to the injury,” he told Caribbean Life, also in an exclusive interview. “We also had some technical challenges, such as not running out of zones quick enough and lapsing concentration.
“We just need to work harder,” he added. “But, overall, they (athletes) accounted well for themselves.”
“What we have achieved in our young age, I don’t think Jamaica achieved that in its early stages,” Harry continued. “So, that’s a plus to where we’re going.”
The untiring Philadelphia-based James Cordice, the architect behind St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the Penn Relays, tipped his hat to Harry for his perseverance, stating that he and TSSS are, indeed, making the nation proud.
“These children represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he stressed at the Reception and Award Ceremony at the Calabash Restaurant last Saturday night, April 27. “Many schools did not hear their names (called at the Penn Relays), because they’re not as fast as our kids.
“We’ll be stronger next year,” he added. “If the children falter, it’s because of lack of support.”
COSAGO president Laverne McDowald-Thompson – whose group brought along 50-odd supporters, on the bus from New York, to cheer on TSSS – urged the athletes not to give up.
“We’re rooting for these children,” said told the Reception and Award Ceremony. “We have these athletes coming here and representing our country. That’s what makes our organization very proud.
“To the athletes: We want you to continue,” added the former elementary school teacher at home. “Be encouraged. To be among the top athletes in the world is enough to celebrate.”