After competing over the last weekend for the fifth consecutive year in the prestigious Penn Relays Carnival in Philadelphia, athletes from the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have recorded their best performance to date in the century-old games.
“I am much more satisfied because I’m glad the guys (athletes) were able to post a faster performance than in previous years,” Head Coach Godfrey “Fuzzy” Harry told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview before the team departed Monday afternoon for home.
“So people can see upward mobility in terms of team performance,” added Harry, who has accompanied the team of male of female athletes ever since the school began participating in the three-day event, in 2011, at the Franklin Field Stadium, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Competing in a field of 14 teams (schools) last Thursday, in the 4x100m relay, the girls’ team comprising Kerina Hooper, Rownesha Spencer, Jasmine Robertson and Zamesha Myle clocked 4 min., 8.15 sec. in winning their heat.
Hooper, who ran for the third successive and last year in the Penn Relays – the oldest track and field meet in the U.S. – also helped her team significantly in winning the 4x400m-heat, with a personal best of 51.20 sec. Other competitors in that race were Oleisha Ryan, Mekeila Slater and Cheslyn Simper.
Harry, who was assisted by Ronique Dowers, a TSSS Penn Relays athlete in 2011 and 2012, said the girls’ team performed beyond expectations. Earlier this year, TSSS won the Girls Division in the Inter-Secondary Schools Championship in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“When you check it out, their ranking was 53rd out of 364 competing schools,” said Harry, noting that athletes came from the length and breadth of the U.S. and internationally – including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas in the Caribbean.
The TSSS boys’ team also made the nation proud by clocking their best ever in the 4x100m heat on Friday.
In beating eight other schools, the team of Eresto DaSilva, Rodrique Thorpe, Keilon Kirby and Neilo Thomas recorded 44.48 sec. in triumphing in their race.
“This is the best year for me because my performance was the best,” DaSilva told Caribbean Life over Brunch Sunday at the Calabash Restaurant on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia.
DaSilva, who also has been competing in the games for the third consecutive and final year, clocked a personal best of 50.72 sec. in competing in the third leg of the 4x400m on Saturday, the final day of the Carnival.
“Wonderful! Wonderful!” exclaimed James Cordice, the mastermind behind the lone Vincentian school’s participation in the illustrious event.
“Over the years, I’ve seen progression and a team (school) that is going to go far,” added Cordice, who initiated efforts for the nation’s representation.
After helping to coordinate and prepare meals, for a number of years, for Jamaican and other Caribbean athletes at the meet, Cordice, a former president of the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP), said it was time to support his own.
“When you find a team that wins the 4x100m and, in less than three hours, turned around and ran the 4x400m – with one of the students in that previous race – that to me is raw talent and strength,” he said.
The indefatigable Cordice was also high in praise for nationals who trekked from across the U.S., particularly New York, to support TSSS athletes.
“I’m really appreciative of the Vincentian community [nationals in New York] that boarded the bus,” he said. “That has been a warranted addition to the success of the contingent and the supporting committee here [in Philadelphia] that fed and transported them – not forgetting Team Jamaica Bickle that provided over 1600 meals a day [to Jamaican and other Caribbean athletes at the games].”
For over 20 years, Team Jamaica Bickle has been provided meals for Jamaican, then other Caribbean, athletes, over the course of three days, at the Penn Relays. Cordice has been an integral part of that organization.
Over the years, the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the U.S., has been organizing the 2 ½ hour-long bus trek for nationals in New York to render support to TSSS athletes at the games.
COSAGO and SVGOP, along with other groups and individuals in the U.S., have also furnished some financial support to TSSS athletes.
A few weeks before the games, the Brooklyn-based Club St. Vincent, Inc., an educational and cultural group, hosted a sponsored Walk at the expansive Marine Park in Brooklyn to help raise funds for the athletes.
But even with these efforts, Cordice and Harry said competing in the Penn Relays remains a financial challenge.
“We need more business people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to come on board,” said Harry, stating that LIME recently provided some financial assistance. “But we need more support like LIME.
“The National Lottery has been supporting us, but they have been cutting back on the [financial] support every year,” he added. “But we’re still thankful for the support.”
Additionally, Harry said the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee “has assisted us,” as well as “a group in New York, headed by Peter Burke, which assisted us.”
Burke is actually the vice president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, which is headed by community advocate Maxwell Haywood.
Prior to TSSS’ arrival in the U.S., Burke presented at home a US$1,500 check to TSSS, on behalf of the Diaspora Committee, according to media reports.
Harry was grateful to all who assisted the team in its fifth Penn Relays mission, identifying Cordice, COSAGO, SVGOP, the kitchen staff at Team Jamaica Bickle, and TSSS principal John Renton and staff, among others, for making the trip “a pleasant one.”
He said TSSS athletes will be competing in the Penn Relays in the years ahead “as long as the opportunity becomes available financially.”
“We have the talent of the school,” Harry asserted.
Zenron Chance and Mickial Legair were the other athletes in the 17-member contingent that also included chaperons Dawana Balcombe and Farrah Bailey, teachers at TSSS.