In The Beginning – The Years Before ‘Champs’

Most Jamaican athletics fans know that the Champs we know and love today began in 1910. However, most people are unaware of any high school competitions but prior to that. Today, we take a Throwback Thursday trip down memory lane to those pre-Champs years.

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Norman Manley (R) was the first Boys’ Champs star, setting the 100 yard record for JC in 1911. Here he poses with his son Douglas (Munro), who broke it 30 years later.

Boys

Six of the oldest and most prominent boys’ schools in the country – Jamaica College, New College, St George’s College, Mandeville Middle Grade School, Potsdam School (Munro) and Wolmer’s Boys – began contesting a multi-event championships in 1904. It was loosely based on the English public school sports system at institutions like Harrow and Eton. There were only running and jumping events, and competitors seem to have been ranked using a combination of physical attributes and their known talents. The first five titles went to Jamaica College, while Wolmer’s took the final one in 1909.

This meet quickly fell out of favour as, among other issues, it didn’t promote fair competition. The Jamaica Schools Championship Sports, which evolved first into Boys Champs and now Boys and Girls Champs, came on stream in 1910, administered by the headmasters of the same six schools mentioned above. Instead of relying on handicaps to create even competitions, the class system was devised – by age group for runners and long jumpers, and by height for high jumpers.

The first ‘official’ Boys’ Champs was won by Wolmer’s.

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Una Morris of Kingston Technical High was one of the first Girls’ Champs stars, establishing a national record of 24.9 seconds in the 220-yard race. She made the Olympics team that year, finishing 4th in the 200m final.

Girls

The earliest recognised high school girls’ championships event took place at Melbourne Park on December 26, 1914. It was an important event, because Governor William Manning, Kingston mayor Hubert Simpson and the West Indies Regimental Band were in attendance.

Another girls’ competition was contested for the Hannasons Shield in the 1940s, under the banner of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association.

The first modern Girls’ Champs was held in 1957 and was won by St Hilda’s High School out of St Ann. It was held separately from the Boys’ championships, with mostly similar events, at Sabina Park. There were no Girls’ Champs from 1958 to 1960. It came back in 1961. The founding of the Games Mistresses Association in 1963 stabilised the organisation of the event, and it has had an unbroken run since then.

The Boys’ and Girls’ champs were merged in 1999, creating the ‘superchamps’ we now have today.