Athletes from the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are not only using their fourth annual trek to the United States to compete in the illustrious Penn Relays Carnival, but they have been very busy visiting, for the first time, university and college campuses in exploring academic possibilities, according to James Cordice, the mastermind behind the nation’s participation in the games.
“From the onset, we were interested in giving the students an opportunity to do more than compete at the Penn Relays, but the time and schedule never allowed them do to so,” said Cordice in a Caribbean Life interview ahead of the games’ run-off on Thursday at the Franklin Field Stadium at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Though it’s a very expensive venture, I believe exposing the children to universities and colleges in the US will augur well for them in the long run,” added Cordice, a former president of the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP).
“It has opened up their (athletes) minds to enormous possibilities,” he continued. “Meeting with college professors, even of Caribbean descent, has wowed the children.”
The 11 athletes and three officials – head coach Godfrey “Lion heart” Harry, assistant coach Kemaro Williams and chaperone/manager Dawana Balcombe – arrived in Philadelphia on April 16.
On Apr. 17, the TSSS athletes toured Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, considered the oldest Black university in the U.S.
“It was a very educational tour due to the fact of the black history behind Cheyney,” Balcombe said.
Early Friday morning, April 18, the team took the six-hour trip to Hampton University in Virginia, where they were greeted on arrival by administrative assistant Veronica Charles, a Vincentian native, and Doug Slaughter, assistant in the Department of Engineering.
During that visit, the contingent listened to a lecture by assistant dean, Dr. Raymond Samuel, also Vincentian-born.
“His lecture to us was so positively penetrative that it taught us to realize our potential or gift that God has given to us to fulfill our purpose in life,” Balcombe said.
The team also toured Rutgers University in Camden, South New Jersey on Monday.
Afterwards, Cordice said the contingent lunched at the Trinidadian-owned Brown Sugar Restaurant in Philadelphia, which donates 200 meals to Team Jamaica Bickle, the organization that provides meals to Caribbean athletes immediately prior to, during and immediately after the Penn Relays.
The TSSS girls’ team – comprising Kerina Hooper, Lenisha Oliver, Cheslyn Simper and Rownesha Spencer – were expected to compete in the 4x400m on Thursday.
The boys’ team – which comprises Sean Shephard, Rogike Thorpe, Neilo Thomas, Erasto De Silva, Omar Cummings, Azare Samuel and Keilon Kirby – vies for a place in the 4x100m on Friday and the 4x400m on Saturday.
As in prior years, a bus load of Vincentian supporters, organized by COSAGO, and many others in cars, are expected to take the two-hour-plus journey early on Saturday, from New York, to “scream their lungs out”, as the TSSS athletes take the tracks, later that day, before an anticipated 50,000-strong boisterous crowd at the stadium.
Organizers say more athletes have run at the Penn Relays than at any single meet in the world. They also say more spectators have watched the meet than any in the world, except the Olympics and World Championships.
A reception and dance will be held in honor of the TSSS athletes on Saturday night and a brunch Sunday morning at the popular Calabash Restaurant & Banquet Hall on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, owned by Vincentian-born Edison Paynter and his Trinidadian-born wife, Jennifer.