After years of explorations and negotiations, the leading athletic secondary school in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is finally able to compete in the prestigious Penn Relays in the United States.
The Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) makes the historic trip to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa. this week, primarily through the inexorable effort of James Cordice, the former president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVOP).
Cordice, who stepped down as the group’s president earlier this year and is now serving as public relations officer, expressed profound delight that his long-held dream has finally come true.
“I am very jubilant. I feel very good about it. I’m excited. It’s a dream come true,” he said in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview ahead the athletic team’s departure from home.
“I’ve personally invested a lot of time into it, even when people thought it will not happen,” he added, disclosing that he has been in touch with TSSS’ coach Godfrey Harry about getting the athletes to compete in the relays for over a year.
As a matter of fact, Cordice said he had been trying to persuade local sporting and education authorities about getting St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the games, for a number of years, without success until now.
“I’ve been speaking with people for so many years, and nothing happened,” he said.
Cordice said he first broached the notion with Otis Jack, manager of the 2007 national youth cricket team, who referred him to Harry.
“He was one of those people who I sat down with in 2007. He’s the one who got Coach Harry to contact me,” he said.
“It’s important that people get recognized when they need help. He (Harry) was really happy that I was talking to them to use track and field as a vehicle for academic enhancement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he added.
“It’s another hallmark for the SVOP,” Cordice continued. “The whole organization is together on it.”
He said the Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A, Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the U.S., is solidly supporting the SVOP’s initiative, financially and otherwise.
“Working with Mr. Cordice, you obviously get involved in things like this. He’s been trying for years to get schools in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to participate,” said O’brien Simmons, COSAGO’s coordinator for the Penn Relays and the organization’s treasurer.
“The whole idea is not only athletics but also to advance the athletes academically,” added the chairman of Caribbean American Renal Failure Relief Fund and president of the Brooklyn, New York-based Bequia United Progressive Organization (BUPO).
Simmons said COSAGO will be organizing a bus-load of Vincentian nationals in New York to travel to Pennsylvania to support the TSSS athletes on the final day on the games on Saturday.
Nine athletes – accompanied by four officials, including the school’s principal, John Renton, Harry and Minister of Health, Cecil McKie – are competing in the relays, which commence on Thursday.
Renton said that the school’s athletes started on a special training program with Harry late last year in preparation for the games.
He said the top athletes also received training from Michael Ollivierre, who formerly coached high school students in Jamaica and “has considerable experience in preparing school teams for the Penn Relays.”
Renton said, in January, the training intensified, adding that, in February, a squad of 11 athletes participated in the Barbados Relay Classic.
“Training stepped up again, as our own school sports and Interschool Sports approached,” he said.
“The hard work paid off, as was evident by the success of our athletes at Interschool Sports, when our boy’s team defeated all comers by a large margin, and we attained victories in the intermediate boys 4x100m and 4x400m relay events,” he added.
Renton said individual athletes from the “Penn squad also did well,” stating that Renaldo Charles was the victor ludorum of the games, and Brandon Parris dominated the 400, 800 and 1500m events.
He said Brandon, who was participating in the CARIFTA games in Jamaica, was expected to join the rest of the team in Philadelphia.
“The coaches report that training continues to progress well, and that the athlete’s confidence has been boosted by their recent successes,” the principal said. “We are ready for Penn.”
In addition to individual events, he said the following athletes will compete in the games: 4×100 m – Renaldo Charles, Ronique Dowers, Michael Hazell and Najee Israel; and 4x400m – Kion Robertson, Brandon Parris, Kamol Bess and Najee Israel.
“I am confident that the boys of the Thomas Saunders Secondary school will repay all those who have supported us by representing their country with pride and dignity on the international stage,” Renton said.
Team Jamaica Bickle, of which Cordice is the Philadelphia co-coordinator, is providing all Caribbean athletes with meals during the games. Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago are the other Caribbean countries participating in the “carnival.”
Team Jamaica Bickle started out, 17 years ago, by supporting Jamaican athletes and officials with food, namely patties, but has since greatly expanded its scope of assistance to include accommodations, transportation, medical and even legal needs.
More than 650 Jamaica athletes and officials are expected to attend this year’s Penn Relays.
The pre-history of the Penn Relays, and the history of relay running as sport, began in 1893 at the University of Pennsylvania.
The event is now considered the longest uninterrupted collegiate track event in the United States.
“Through 116 editions of the meet, more athletes have run at the Penn Relays than at any single meet in the world,” organizers said.
“More spectators have watched the meet than any in the world, except the Olympics and World Championships,” they added. “And the Penn Relay Carnival remains the same whirlwind of activity that has always excited fans, young and old.”