Jamaica's long-serving track and field coaches to be honoured November 11

By Sports Desk October 06, 2023
David Riley (l), Stephen Francis (c) and Michael Vassell are among several of Jamaica's track and field coaches to be honoured on November 11, 2023. David Riley (l), Stephen Francis (c) and Michael Vassell are among several of Jamaica's track and field coaches to be honoured on November 11, 2023.

As it celebrates National Coaches Day on Friday, October 6, the Jamaica Track and Field Coaches Association (JTFCA) has announced that it will honour several members of its coaching fraternity for long and distinguished service on November 11, 2023.

The awards will be in four categories: Silver (20-25 years), Gold (26-30 years), Platinum (30-40 years) and Lifetime Award (Over 40 years).

Among the coaches to be honoured are Fitzroy Ball, Paul Francis, Richard Thomas and H. Michael Vassell who are set to receive Platinum Awards, Michael Dyke, Dwayne Jarrett, Kevin Pryce and Hermon Reid who will be bestowed with Gold Awards.

The recipients of the Silver Awards are Lawson Brown, Keilando Goburn, Christopher Mitchell, David Riley, Garth Smythe and Lecia Walters.

Iconic track and field coach Stephen Francis will also be presented with the Hector-Smith Master Coach Award named after the late Edward Hector and Eldemire Smith who both served as executive members of the Coaches Association. Francis, Michael Clarke, Patrick Johnson and Errol Messias will also receive Lifetime Awards.

The Jamaica Track and Field Coaches Association is internationally recognized body for Jamaica’s track and field coaches at the Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Club and Elite levels. The association is an affiliate of the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA) and is endorsed by World Athletics.

It is also the representative body for all Track and Field coaches in Jamaica.

October 6 is recognized as National Coaches Day across many federations in North America and the Caribbean region and is a day when the work of coaches across all sports are recognized. It is also a day when issues and challenges facing the profession are brought into sharp focus.

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    Mills didn’t hold any punches, as he tore into the JOA about the fact that they allotted only 14 slots to the JAAA for team officials, a figure he cited as woefully inadequate given that the country is expected to field at least 60 track and field athletes at the global multi-sport showpiece.

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    “I have been to nine Olympics. It is a disgrace that you have to be fighting to get the required number of coaches, the required number of therapists and doctors to go with an Olympic team that is probably rated number two or three in the world,” Mills said.

    “I find it very unfortunate that track and field, and what it represents in the Olympic movement, not just in Jamaica but worldwide, along with Jamaica’s history (has come to this). We are not beggars, we have earned it,” he added.

    Even as he recommended that the JOA reconsiders and up the JAAA’s allocation to 17 team officials, Mills believes that figure is still insufficient, and further suggested that 21 would be the right fit.

    According to Mills, his experience as the Jamaican technical director and coach at several international competitions in the past gives him expert knowledge on what it takes to manage an Olympic delegation.

    “Seventeen persons for a team of 65 to 70 is totally inadequate. I know that. I have been there and I’ve done that. I have done at least six or seven Olympics as the technical director and coach,” Mills declared.

    “I know what it is to go there and work with so many different athletes and so many responsibilities, So, I cannot see why the number is a problem. How can track and field be struggling to get 17 persons when the minimum based on the requirements should be about 21,” he questioned.

    On that note, Mills, the former coach of sprint legend and world record holder Usain Bolt, pointed out that he could have opted to take his expertise elsewhere, but declined offers from two other Olympic associations to join their team for this year’s Olympic Games.

    “If it is forced that I recognise the necessity for other coaches who have numerous athletes, I could have gone to the Olympics with other countries. I was offered two full accreditations, full funding, but I could never see myself wearing another country’s colours, but if I am forced to, then I will have to,” he noted.

    Meanwhile, JAAA President Garth Gayle explained that efforts to get the Christopher Samuda-led JOA to reconsider, have proved futile, even as he highlighted the need for additional personnel to support athletes across various disciplines.

    “We believe this is a reasonable request considering the wide range of disciplines, horizontal jumps, vertical jumps, throws, as well as medical personnel and therapists, we are requesting the JOA to increase the number by three to make it 17. Their response has been 14 and that’s it, but we are asking that they review it," Gayle shared.

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    Weakly's illustrious 15-year career saw him compete in two Olympic Games, three Commonwealth Games, and two World Championships. His notable achievements include winning the 400m hurdles at the Jamaican Athletics Championships in 2001 and achieving his personal best time of 48.55 seconds at the 2003 Trikala Super Grand Prix in Athens, Greece.

    Reflecting on his early years, Weakly shared how his passion for track and field began. "I discovered my love for track and field in high school, where I also played football and soccer as a captain and goalkeeper, respectively. My career truly took off in 1992 when I switched to the 400m hurdles, leading to victories at the Carifta Games, a silver medal at the World Junior Championship in Korea, and a bronze at the Pan American Games in Canada," he reminisced.

    After graduating from George Mason University in 1996, where he secured the NCAA Indoor Team title, Weakly joined Jamaica’s national team. He went on to secure numerous accolades, including second place in the 4x400m relay at the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane, third place in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and second place at the Monaco World Athletics finals.

    Since retiring in 2008, Weakly has pursued a successful career in real estate and remains active in his community. He is an avid gardener and finds solace in his connection with nature. He also enjoys running, hiking, and biking. A dedicated community volunteer, Weakly gives back through his membership with the Rotary Club and has spearheaded humanitarian projects in Jamaica, such as providing potable water to a primary school in Dumfries.

    Currently, Weakly serves as a World Athletics Athlete representative and manages Jamaican athletes Danniel Thomas-Dodd and Rajindra Campbell. He emphasized his commitment to continuing his service to the community and promoting the Olympic spirit. "I will continue to serve my community and local schools in Jamaica, and trust that Heavenly Father will be proud of my work on earth. It brings great joy again to be recognized by my fellow Olympians. I continue to share the Olympic spirit to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play," he said.

    Clare, who is unable to attend Tuesday night’s event due to prior commitments, also expressed his gratitude at being recognized for the work he has done with Team Jamaica Bickle, a non-profit that provides support to Caribbean athletes who are participating at the annual Penn Relays at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in the United States.

    “Recognition from organizations like this fills my day. I was truly moved by that recognition. It is an awesome group, kudos to them because they are truly trailblazers, continued ambassadors, reminding people of the type of hard work and discipline you have to put into the craft and that there is life also after track.”







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