The screams and rallies of Vincentian nationals in the United States, who trekked by bus and car to Franklin Field Stadium, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, did not go in vain, as athletes from the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) continue to make the nation very proud in the century-plus-old Penn Relays.
Competing in the prestigious Relays Carnival for the sixth successive year, the TSSS male athletes won their 4x400m heat last Saturday in a field of 13 other schools.
With cacophonous cheering from Vincentians, including a busload from Brooklyn, 15-year-old Zenron Chance, participating in the relays for the very first time and debuting in an international meet, maintained the lead in the anchor leg, to put TSSS, the only Vincentian team in the games, and their effervescent supporters on high.
Chance capitalized on a strong third leg finish by Neilo Thomas, who was third to receive the baton in the expansive field but was first to hand over at the anchor leg.
Thomas, 18, competing in his fourth successive and last Penn Relays for TSSS — he graduates this year — ostensibly used his experience to great advantage.
Despite a spike to his right thigh, just above the knee — caused when a competitor fell in the crowded field — Thomas maintained his composure and focus on the ultimate prize.
In the end, the TSSS 4×400 relay team — comprising Edwin Weston, Azare Samuel, Thomas and Chance, running in that order — clocked 3 min. 29.76 sec.
It was the third time that the male team won the 4x400m heat, and received a plaque, since TSSS began competing in the Penn Relays in 2011. The TSSS male team had triumphed in the 4x400m in the inaugural year of competition and the year after.
“Excellent!” said Chance, expectedly breathing very hard, in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview, at track’s end, as he and his team mates received “high fives” from competitors and fans. “More athletes [from TSSS and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as a whole] can follow in our footsteps.
“Some of them [critics] think it’s a waste of time coming over here [participating in the Penn Relays], but it ain’t [is not],” he added, “because you have to go out there and run your best, with thousands of people watching you.”
Thomas also told Caribbean Life that he was “very excited” with his team’s victory.
For Head Coach Godfrey “Fuzzy” Harry, the team’s success defied what he regarded as negative utterances from critics, primarily those at home.
“People are making negative comments, but they’re not making positive financial contributions [in enabling TSSS athletes to compete in the prestigious event],” he said amid the euphoria.
“That’s why the Diaspora continues to assist, because they [nationals] see the reason for the team to come [participate in the Penn Relays, the oldest and largest collegiate athletic event in the U.S.],” he added. “We have a younger set of inexperienced guys, except for Neilo [Thomas]. The people who invested their money in coming here [enabling the athletes to compete in the 122 running of the Penn Relays] will be satisfied with the performance of the team.”
Thomas also said the 4×400 male team’s win was a result of “continuous development and exposure, because athletes come and go. Every year, we have to build teams.”
The TSSS male 4x100m team — Nigel Thomas, Chance, Derold Samuel, and Neilo Thomas, in that order — was, however, not so successful on the day before, which was more blustery and cold, placing sixth and clocking 45.26 sec.
On Thursday, the female 4x100m team of Ariel Jackson, Makelia Slater, Shanise John and Kavesia George placed fourth in running in 51.72 sec.; while the female 4x400m team of Oleisha Ryan, Cheslyn Simper, Zamesha Myle and John placed 8th in clocking 4 min., 19.23 sec.
Nonetheless, Chantel Legair, the female coach, debuting in the Penn Relays, said that, despite the cold weather, the female athletes performed creditably.
“They went out and did their best,” she told Caribbean Life. “Most of them were not accustomed to the climate. The competition was higher, but they did great.”
James Cordice — who had dreamed of having a Vincentian team participate in the Penn Relays, after working closely, for years, with Team Jamaica Bickle, the organization that provides three warm meals to Jamaican and Caribbean athletes at the games on event days — could not withhold his excitement about TSSS’s performance.
“I feel really wonderful,” said Cordice, the Philadelphia-based mastermind behind the nation’s vie in the relays and former president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP). “I feel it’s a recurring dream. Just when you have lots of people talking that Penn Relays has to stop, our students come here and shut them up.
“Jamaica started [participating in the Penn Relays] in 1964, St. Vincent and the Grenadines started in 2011,” added Cordice, who has poured his heart, soul and money into the nation’s participation. “We’ll see what happens in 50 years for us. Jamaica [athletes] is on top of the world.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Sports Minister Cecil “Ces” McKie, who attended the games, said he was satisfied with the efforts of TSSS athletes.
“It’s a very important journey we started six years ago,” he told Caribbean Life, flanked by Goaland Greaves, former international cricket umpire and an official in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ministry of Sports. “And it’s very important that government officials come to support them [athletes], and Vincentians living in the U.S.A. coming in these adverse weather conditions.”
In attending the games for the very first time, Greaves said it was “good international exposure for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the school [TSSS]. I hope other schools will follow the path TSSS has taken.”
The Brooklyn-based Vincentian umbrella group, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO) and SVGOP have this year, and over the years, helped in sponsoring the TSSS athletes. COSAGO also again this year organized a bus-load of nationals to render support to the athletes on Saturday, the final day of competition.
The athletes were feted Saturday night at a gala reception at the Calabash Restaurant and Catering House on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. They were also treated to a sumptuous brunch the next day at the same venue. They left for home Sunday night via New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.