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Community advocate rips ‘opportunities open for Vincentian athletes’

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The Philadelphia-based advocate behind St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the illustrious Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa has taken issue with an un-authored article that appeared in THE VINCENTIAN newspaper on Feb. 26, 2016, describing the matter as “real foolishness.”

The article, captioned “Opportunit­ies open for Vincentian athletes,” states that “The quartet of Erasto Da Silva, Rogike Thorpe, Neilo Thomas and Consolo Adams have had part of their dreams realized,” and that “last Monday, they embarked on new academic and sports lives at the Kingsborough Community College in New York, USA.”

But James Cordice, former president of the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP), told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview Sunday night, that some information in the story was inaccurate and that the article, as a whole, was misguided.

He said, first of all, that Neilo Thomas is not among the athletes who have “embarked on new academic sports lives.” In fact, Cordice said Thomas is still a student at the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) and that Thomas, who competed in the Penn Relays last year, is getting ready to do so again this year.

Cordice said Kilon Kirby, who was among TSSS’ Penn Relays athletes last year, is instead identified among the other athletes, who recently trekked to New York supposedly to attend Kingsborough Community College.

“I feel this thing is real foolishness; some of the facts are inaccurate,” Cordice said. “Up to now, I don’t have a full synopsis. No one has taken the time to have a full conversation with me. I don’t feel our parents should pay to send their children to school [college in the United States] if they can run [demonstrate athletic prowess].”

The humanitarian and community advocate, who is a senior executive member of Team Bickle Jamaica, the group that provides meals for Caribbean athletes at the three-day Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the Vincentian Penn Relays effort, which he initiated almost singlehandedly in 2011, is aimed at being “a vehicle to enhance or obtain academic goals

“This is the purpose of us taking this journey,” he said. “I believe that, if we bring these children up to this level, then the school who wants them must be able to recruit them with a scholarship.

“Our community should not pay, the Diaspora should not pay and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should not be forced to pay, because the children [athletes] have a talent that is desirable of a scholarship,” Cordice added. “That’s their reward.

“Then, if they have to pay [athletes have to pay tuition], then what’s the purpose of bringing them to the Penn Relays?” he asked rhetorically. “They come to the Penn Relays to get exposure and then to get a scholarship.

“But to initially start off that they [athletes] have to pay and to hope that this school [Kingsborough Community College] will ensure them a scholarship to another college or university, that is sheer stupidity,” Cordice declared. “That does not make sense. What if they can’t [get an athletic scholarship, it’s going to come back to the community, because you’re going to put pressure on the community to help out.”

The Feb. 26, 2016 article stated that the dreams of the “quartet began to look possible after they met with some staff members during the Penn Relays in April last year.

“It was then left to others here [in St. Vincent and the Grenadines] to follow through on the initial contacts made,” the article said. “Physical Education teacher at the Thomas Saunders Secondary, Godfrey Harry, related that systems were put in place to fast track the students’ departure.

“He said a visit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines by the college’s director of athletics [Kingsborough Community College] in June / July last year also helped to crystallise the procedures,” it added.

Additionally, the article said: “Harry noted that Sarah Blundred, who was here [in St. Vincent and the Grenadines] last year, did her part in assisting with the application to the college.”

But Cordice said, while Kingsborough Community College has not awarded any scholarship to the athletes, TSSS athletes were “exposed to three universities on their 2014 visit to Penn Relays,” claiming that TSSS officials “missed opportunities to foster relationships with those schools.

“I am hoping that the school [TSSS] still reaches out to those universities, where athletic scholarships could be obtained, instead of paying tuition for those children [athletes],” he said.

“This is real stupidness,” stressed Cordice about the recruitment of the “quartet” without an athletic scholarship. “And people don’t have the decency to come clean and have a discussion.”

At the same time, Cordice pointed to the success of star athlete Brandon Valentine-Parris, who was among the initial TSSS Penn Relays contingent, now on an athletic scholarship at Claflin University in South Carolina.

Cordice said, if Vincentian athletes who initially compete in the Penn Relays are unsuccessful in obtaining a scholarship in the US, they should then attend the local Community College and return to the Penn Relays as a member of the college team.

“This is way forward,” he said. “That is what the discussion was about even when Otis Jack [late athletic director at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College] was alive.”

The indefatigable Cordice also urged parents to ask “serious questions” when approached by potential recruiters to “bring their children [to the US without an athletic scholarship].

“They [parents] have to ensure that their kids [athletes] are kept in a safe environment,” he said. “Bringing the kids to live in people’s home is a big joke. How are they going to be sustained?”

In addition, Cordice said Vincentian community leaders in the U.S. should also be informed about any athletic recruitment, adding: “If people have true intentions of helping us, they should not dictate what we do. It’s wrong.”

He urged all sporting stakeholders in St. Vincent and the Grenadines — coaches and officials — to work harmoniously in the interest of nation-building, saying that the athletes ultimately suffer the most when there are constant tugs-of-war and enmity.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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