INTERCOL 2024: Reflections and Recommendations

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Arley Gill

By Arley Salimbi Gill

The Intercollegiate Track and Field Athletic (INTERCOL) games are one of the biggest sporting events on our national calendar. Over a three-day period, track and field enthusiasts—students, parents, teachers, and alumni, many decked in school ties and school colours—converges at the Kirani James Stadium, jumping, singing, and cheering for their respective schools and favourite athletes. INTERCOL has become a cultural phenomenon.

INTERCOL stirs up our deep national passion for track and field. It is almost impossible to escape the intense rivalry that INTERCOL generates between competing schools, among family members and within otherwise loving households. The energy and excitement of INTERCOL captivate anyone with a heartbeat and a pulse.

And like a 100-meter dash, the rivalry evaporates as soon as the games are over and the dust settles. Students from competing schools are friends again, families put their intense arguments behind them, and households resume daily routines, absent tense discussions about school loyalty; things return to normal—until next year when INTERCOL rituals, rivalries and school reverence begin all over again.

This remarkable energy, spirit and fervor are an experience that is unique to the English-speaking Caribbean. I have been fortunate to attend other regional intercollegiate meets and except for Jamaica— no other island matches Grenada in intensity when it comes to energy, comradery, “ole talk’’ and banter.

Recently, I was speaking with a friend about INTERCOL; and, his observations had me thinking about the games and all that it takes to make INTERCOL a success. My friend has been living in Grenada for more than thirty years and has been intimately involved in planning INTERCOL for most of his three decades on the island.

He was amazed at the level of dedication and commitment displayed by everyone involved in the planning and execution of the games; for example, the planning meetings; long training hours; athletes camping out at school; and parents’ involvement in the process, from meal preparation and early morning drop-offs to late evening pick-ups. He also recalled the multiple roles teachers play leading up to the games. Teachers fill in as psychologists and motivational speakers—a true display of unity, dedication, love and commitment.

INTERCOL is a large national school reunion. For three days of the year, past and current principals and students, supporters, and well-wishers—all entranced by the energy and excitement of friendly banter, genuine spirit of laughter and goodwill—gather at the Kirani James Stadium to cheer on Grenada’s current and future athletic stars.

This year, I must confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the online banter. I was really impressed by the provocative postings of Cyprian Syths Forsyth and Atkinson Cadore. These fellas had me entertained all day and sometimes late at night. Just good “ole’’ banter.

It bodes well for track and field that INTERCOL is growing, and our young people are interested and engaged. I applaud organizers for adding new events such as hurdles and the heptathlon. My hope is that very soon we will have the pole vault and steeplechase. There is no limit to how far we can go! 

However, despite the increasing growth and development of the games, there are always areas for improvement. For instance, the length of time that athletes spend on the starting block area, before they begin a race, is not healthy or right. My other concerns include the depth and breadth of our INTERCOL media commentators, and the issue of age-eligible TAMCC students being permitted to participate in the games.

Allowing Grenadians, who are unable to be at the Kirani James Stadium, to watch INTERCOL via a live stream is a treat. However, the producers and commentators of the INTERCOL broadcast must ensure that they have the information they need to educate viewers about athletes, including their performances for the season; whether they are competing for the first or second year in a particular category; provide statistics on how our athletes compare to regional track and field competitors in their respective categories; and offer commentary consistent with CARIFTA standard reference. Doing so will provide viewers with a truly regional track and field perspective.

And commentators must be familiar with, or committed to, learning the language of Track and Field, before they are assigned the role of commentator at a national sporting event. They were simply not well-versed in track and field language. I commend their efforts and they are truly talented journalists; but, sports journalism requires a level of commitment to understanding sports including its rules and regulations, and a knowledge and history of athletes. Hubert Lawrence, now deceased, set up the standard; I do not expect that level but surely, we can do better.

Another observation by former government minister, Ambassador Clarice Charles, had me pondering; in a provocative post, she raised the issue of T. A. Marryshow Community College students and our careful consideration for their futures as professional athletes. Ambassador Charles’ intervention is good food for thought.

Similarly, in conversation with Dave Antoine, a former INTERCOL champion athlete, he shared with me that he believes athletes should continue competing for their secondary schools as long as they fall within the eligible INTERCOL age range. I am curious to hear what others have to say about Dave’s idea. The issue here is simple; we must find ways to keep young athletes engaged and involved in Track and Field after graduating from secondary school. This is an issue that our secondary school principals must address head on. I look forward to a resolution on this matter.

Additionally, it is refreshing to see the ongoing development of athletic clubs throughout the island. However, I admonish us to develop these clubs nation-wide, not just in certain parishes; but, we must make sure that parishes such as St. John’s, St. Mark’s, St. Patrick’s, and Carriacou and Petite Martinique have quality opportunities for coaching centres. What do you say, Coach Albert? This would prevent talent from falling through the cracks and will ensure that more schools benefit from having well-trained athletes.

The present club structure is modern, relevant, and futuristic and most importantly, it is delivering. The idea and longing for a return to traditional community sports and culture clubs are simply regressive.

I am very concerned about the abandonment of middle- and long-distance road running. Grenada has a great history and tradition of producing formidable half-marathon and marathon athletes, from Maurice “Bull’ Williams, Anthony “Dog’’ Charles, Callistus Bonaparte, Verlyn Duncan, Sharon “Checksay’’ Charles, among others. Mr. Conrad Francis and the Athletics Association must do something about the future of road running and roadrunners on the island. I hate to think that they do not care.

Speaking of the holistic development of sports in Grenada, I must take a moment to digress. I was disappointed that of all the 50th independence anniversary activities, there were no national sporting events. There wasn’t a marathon, half-marathon, 10K or 5K; not even a competitive walk. There was only an island-wide torch-bearing event, which was barely covered by the media and which hardly anyone remembers.

I imagined that sports would be at the heart of our 50th anniversary celebrations; that the independence Golden Jubilee would not only highlight and showcase cultural acts but also would also engage hundreds of young people in sports and games. Including sporting events as part of our celebrations would attract many more young people—possibly, more young people than any youth forum.

The forum, of course, has its place, but there could have been inter-parish cricket and football competitions; a national basketball competition, and lawn tennis and table tennis tournaments; a volleyball competition and other sporting disciplines, including sailing and swimming. Such sporting events would showcase the talents and abilities of our nationals.

How did we ignore sports? Money, certainly, was not the problem; not for the generous budgetary allocation our celebrations enjoyed. Interestingly, we remembered Kirani James and Junior Murray and forgot their disciplines that brought us honour and attention on the international stage. 

This was a missed opportunity to activate our respective sporting organizations by investing resources in their coffers; and, to be fair to the independence anniversary organizers, I did not hear any public lobbying from our sporting organizations. In my view, it was a major oversight.

Moreover, since the great sports journalist, Ray Roberts, hung up his boots, no one is asking relevant and hard questions about the state of sports in this country; I mean absolutely no one!

INTERCOL continues to grow. This is great for Grenada and great for the future of track and field. As we look optimistically to the future, I believe that for all the effort, dedication and sacrifice made by athletes, coaches, teachers, parents, and principals—INTERCOL should take place from Friday to Sunday. Doing so, in my respectful view, will help foster further growth and expansion. I am prepared to further discuss this issue with the people with the power to grow INTERCOL— if they are interested in engaging in public discourse on this matter.

And, despite minor challenges, I am excited about INTERCOL 2025. To all our athletes and organizers, thanks for a great 2024 event! Thanks for the national celebration in March, the youthful energy, healthy competition, fun and excitement and for the thrill of it all. Until next year.