Schools challenge

Mere days after the end of the annual Boys’ and Girls’ High School Championships (‘Champs’), when school pride and spirit were on national display, we had the final for the Schools Challenge Quiz (SCQ). Calabar High School

Calabar High School crest
Calabar High School crest

won the boys’ championship for the 24th time, while Edwin Allen School took the girls’ trophy for the 2nd time, displacing almost perennial girls’ powerhouse Holmwood Technical. The boys have seen annual tussles between Jamaica College, Calabar High School and Kingston College. The girls’ side has been dominated by Holmwood for most of the past decade, while during the previous 20 years, Vere Technical ruled the roost.

It’s fitting that the brawny side of schooling was put into context by considering the brainy side. The contestants last night were Kingston College (KC), previous winners on 10 occasions (out of 20 appearances), against Campion College, seeking their first win. This was the 45th year of the competition, so KC have had some relative dominance.

Kingston College crest
Kingston College crest

KC won 27-25, after trailing for most of the ‘match’. So, they ceded bragging rights on the track but have them in the classroom, so to speak.

I am not an avid fan of TV quizzes, though I’ve glimpsed some of the earlier rounds, but had my interest raised for this for some odd reason. WHile watching, I was taken by the nature of the TV coverage by broadcaster TVJ. I thought it incongruous that the competition was preceded by a display of hip-hop and dance hall dancing by some boys and girls. A well-known journalist informed me that it was ‘just me’ who thought it so. I wont argue that. The idea was that this was for the ‘vibes’. I haven’t watched the annual spelling bee competition, but I have a feeling that their ‘vibes’ aren’t boosted–is that the right verb–with some pre-spellbound writhing. I somehow felt that the gravitas warranted something like a few verses of poetry or some readings from well-known novels, or a piece of classical music.

I watched the start of the final, which had its opening around 8.30pm–after the nightly news on TVJ, much later than when the preceding rounds were broadcast, about 6.30pm–before the nightly news. I guess that to the extent that a wider audience was targeted for those earlier rounds, they were less important for the final. I don’t see enough difference in advertising to think that the payoff was significantly higher.

It was interesting to me, in hindsight, that the final was preceded by a radio discussion about gender bias in the coverage of sports in the media. I did not hear the whole set of comments, but followed part online. I was coaching some girls to play soccer, and had a scrimmage against some boys. I guess that dealt with some actual biases.

The athletics championships are split into boys and girls competition, the latter being newer. So, historically, national interest and focus were on the boys’ side. The girls were playing catch-up. In sport, there’s a natural difference that starts to show before teenage years, and boys tend to be much faster and stronger. So, the male side of sports has speed and strength, which women generally cannot match. The female equivalent performances in sports may display other characteristics, maybe finesse. Girls are certainly quick and strong and can be very aggressive, so in terms of commitment you may not be able to say that girls are putting in less of what they can than boys; it’s just less than boys can. I was telling a parent the other day that I never liked scrimmaging with my girls soccer team, because the presence of males as opposition brought out a viciousness that I could not handle and my older and maybe frailer body had no need to be biffed and bashed more than it had in my best playing days. My girls loved scrimmaging boys so that they could give them a ‘good kicking’. Try as they might, though, they couldn’t match the boys for speed and strength. Society buys into that by generally preferring to watch and pay to watch males playing sports.

So, we come to the cerebral side. I was struck by the commentaries last night, preceding SCQ, that nearly half of the winning schools were all-boys schools.  With all the talk of gender equality and equity, here we had a clear sign of how unequal the playing field has been. I was struck more when I saw the Campion team,

Campion College crest
Campion College crest

representing a co-ed school but all of the team were boys. Maybe, there’s some rule I missed, but that struck me as odd. I thought about the discussions regarding quotas for parliamentary representation and wondered if there was not some disconnection in the arguments in thinking about where the biases lay.

One of the TVJ commentators, Neville Bell, interviewed some students before the match and was hearing from a girl student at Campion, who wanted to give her ‘love’ to one of the team. “It’s only him you love?” he asked. The girls giggled and quickly replied “No, I love them all.” What did I detect there? Answers on a postcard. Moving along.

Campion started well, and had a sizeable lead going into the last round, but as with many sports, it’s not over till the (politically correct phrasing, now) ‘overweight person of a certain gender’ sings. They coughed up the victory. Had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. I’m sure they were gutted. The post-match interviews were a bit better than we often get after, say, football or track events. The students are supposed to be able to string a few sentences together and sound intelligent. But, it might have been nice to hear the losers say “It was a game of four quarters. We gave our all, but they had more than we did, and we can’t argue with the result. We’ll be back.” Or the winners could be saying “You know, everyone knows, that KC are the team to beat, and we had our reputation on the line, and had to show our class, which we did in the homestretch. Well done, Campion, you’ll have more chances.” If it were tennis, we should have had a few thanks given to the sponsors, the quiz masters, the audience, our mothers and fathers, etc.  The battle of the crests was over. In haiku form:

Kingston College won
Campion College came close
Fortis beat Fortes

So, what now? Which of these student quizzers will go on to greater things in life? Have any of them every featured on Jeopardy? I think to Tessanne Chin. Is this the new wave for Jamaica?

We can think back to the mad scramble that affects Jamaican sixth graders in trying to pass the so-called GSAT exams and get themselves into the high schools of their choice. It’s more than an education, it’s being part of the ‘teams’ that people associate with the schools, too, whether in sports–I never talked about football–or study. Getting into the ‘right’ school is important. Not here the debate about streaming and also the connection between schools and crime, but remember where the bars have been set.

Finally, I have to say a word about the knowledge that was tested. Of course, some will guffaw that the students missed answers for well-known singers, even though they aced the mental maths questions. Jamaica would want to take a look at their ‘Bible knowledge’ too. Facial recognition is also a weak spot, but it also tells us a lot about the so-called faceless bureaucrats who are in charge of some important areas of our life. I bet that if Adidja Palmer’s face had popped up the buzzers would have gotten white-hot. But, they’re youths and they will take their time to grow.


Raise a happy tune

Many Jamaicans, at home or abroad, are getting excited because Champs is around the corner. The fans are ready to sport school colours and make noise. I’ve only been to Champs once and loved what I experienced.

I’m a child of the English football terraces; they are where I spent many an enjoyable Saturday afternoon, watching my heroes close up, and learning the ‘trade’ of playing football. Occasionally, as a teenage boy, I was able to go to a night game. The atmosphere was essentially the same, but under floodlights, a match takes on some different characteristics. My parents were not keen for me to go to night games alone, and always wanted to know who else would be with me.

I’ve watched a few football games in Jamaica and been struck by one simple point. No one seems very passionate about the teams that are playing. “Kick di rahtid ball, nuh, Shartie!” doesn’t get there. “Ah wha’ disya team a do?” misses it, too. “Goooooaallll!” is getting there, but come on, man.

When I went to games in England a big part of the experience was chanting; singing the songs that lifted my team and singing the songs that denigrated the opposition.

We are the Rangers and we are the best/We are the Rangers so f*** all the rest/F*** ’em all, f**8 ’em all/The long and the short and the tall/…

I wrote a short while ago about Jamaicans (and other Caribbean, mainly) who support English teams. I now know a little better why I struggle with this  phenomenon: the fans here know little about the real experience of supporting the time during a match. One of my Jamaican acquaintances who’s involved in sports broadcasting had the good luck to have to go to London recently. He gloated about how he would be going to The Emirates Stadium to watch his ‘beloved’ Arsenal. When he returned and told me about his time there, he never once mentioned singing the songs. Maybe, he doesn’t know the word. Maybe, he doesn’t feel the vibes. But, I wondered. I started humming to myself a few ditties about teams, but one song came to mind (mindful that I lived in the part of London being dissed, though was never a fan of theirs–my older daughter is, though 😦 ):

We Hate Tottenham

“(Whaddya think of Tottenham?!)” “SHIT!”/
“(Whaddya think of Shit?)” “TOTTENHAM!”/
“(Thank you!)” “That’s alright!”/“We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham!”/“We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham!”/“We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham!”/“We are the Tottenham haters!”/“(Y*ddos! Y*ddos! Y*ddos!)”

Watch for fuller impact,

That’s how fans show their support: vocally. Loud, very direct, and often not for the ears of young children. They do not go for big productions, such as the following (expect, perhaps, if the World Cup team wants to make some extra money with a chart hit). Anyway, listen carefully to the lyrics.

Champs doesn’t have this, and for sure, Red Stripe Premier League doesn’t. We are now in the land of the vuvuzela. Add to that the sound of some fans jeering and clapping. It’s not much.

I miss the old English style.

Liverpool fans, in full voice, and colours
Liverpool fans, in full voice, and colours

I watched Manchester United suffer at the feet of Liverpool last week, and really enjoyed how the singing changed as the result was coming clear. The Liverpool fans’ voices rose louder and stronger. The ManU chants tried to lift their team. The home team’s Stretford End–where the diehards must be to show their love–did not seem able to cope with the lesser numbers but heartier singing of Liverpool’s travelling fans, representing The Kop (their home ‘end’ at Anfield). The TV coverage did not do it full justice as it did not show the waving arms with scarves in team colours held high, swaying with the songs. But, try to listen to part of the game when the score was 0-2 to Liverpool.

Back to Champs. My ears are going to be tuned in to how singing features, if at all, when the stadium starts to rock and the runners start to roll.