By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published April 10, 2017
Petersfield High School sports program has been on the rise in recent years. The dream is to build a strong legacy and a bright future for their student-athletes. However, they desperately need assistance.
Last year after Boys and Girls Championships, all the discussion was about the Christopher Taylor versus Akeem Bloomfield showdown in the event’s finale, the 4 x 400m relay. Three days after the Championships, I stood beside a soup shop on a university college campus in Western Jamaica discussing the beleaguered anchor leg by Bloomfield with students and passersby. The discussions centred around whether Bloomfield utilised the correct strategy. Interestingly, among the crowd, an inadvertent participant joined the discussion. That individual was Petersfield’s High School Track and Field head coach, Machell Woolery.
“We don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in…”
– Machell Woolery
In recent years, barring St. Elizabeth Technical High School, Petersfield High School has been the beacon of the westerly parishes in sports generally, but especially in the area of track and field. In previous years, Manning’s School was the gold-standard in Westmoreland but like with life’s only constant, there has been a change.
Petersfield High has advanced to the quarterfinals stage in the last three editions of the Dacosta Cup. More surprisingly, at Boys and Girls Championships, or Champs for short, they have finished in the top-10 on the boys’ side every year since 2012 and in the top-20 on the girls’ side in three of the last four editions. They have finished 7th, 6th and 7th on the boys’ side in the last three editions, with them scoring 71 points exactly at the last two Championships. This year on the girls’ side, they attained their highest finish of 11th with them scoring 32 points.
Table 1. Petersfield High points and ranking at the Boys and Girls Championships 2011-2017
After Coach Woolery revealed his identity, and after the polarising views of the congregants at the soup shop regarding the Taylor-Bloomfield showdown cooled off, I spoke with Coach Woolery about the entire sports program at Petersfield High and the resources at their disposal.
“The resources are very minimalist. The whole burden is on the school. We would love to get some form of corporate sponsors on board, whether it’s from Westmoreland, Montego Bay or Jamaica at large. We just want the backing to help us get the students out through the scholarship medium or [to help] those who can represent the country in the long run,” he said.
Woolery is a graduate of GC Foster College and is a certified IAAF Level I and Level II coach. He said that his time at GC Foster, the IAAF training received along with being a part of the Digicel/MVP Grassroots program for a number of years have all contributed to his life experiences as a coach.
With limited resources, coaching can identify individual talent and hone it. However, to truly challenge schools like Kingston College and Calabar on the boys’ side or Edwin Allen and Hydel on the girls’ side at Champs, which is coach Woolery’s dream, Petersfield would require serious support from the past students’ association, corporate sponsors and possibly governmental agencies.
While speaking last year, Woolery remarked, “We need equipment, hurdles, a gym, and starting blocks. We don’t have a school bus. So, transportation is a heavy burden on us. We don’t have a shoe sponsor or a gears sponsor. So, we don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in, nor a nutrition program or supplements for the students. In every area we are in need of great help.
“We want to be in the top-5 at Champs. We know that it is hard to win the Championships. However, if we can get that financial backing we know we can challenge the top schools. To challenge any school at Champs, once your field events are strong and you can maintain in other areas, you can show dominance.  we won the field events section at champs. We outscored KC, JC, Calabar, and all the name brand schools. We won gold medals in three out of five field throws. So that sets a precedence. All we need from here is some financial backing and we can do great things and make the West proud.”
Though the team-centred Coach Woolery is very hesitant to individualise members of the Petersfield setup, in the past few years, student-athletes like Kevin Nedrick, Daniel Cope and Antonio Watson have stood out on the track and in the field, and there are several more.
In December last year, just before the start of the current track season, I once again caught up with Coach Woolery, who had just returned from El Salvador where he went to do the IAAF Level II certification. He said that despite the success of Petersfield he was saddened that they were not getting the financial support they expected to get as a non-traditional and a deep rural school that is performing so well at Champs.
“I will never stop trying until I get it right.”
– Daniel Cope
Woolery and Petersfield High want a bright future for their student-athletes and recognise that for several of them, their prowess in sports is their vehicle to greater opportunities and success in life.
“I want everybody to know that [Petersfield High] is not just track and field. We have been a decent sports program. Where we try our best to get our students to get scholarships to go abroad. We have a few students who have moved on to universities abroad to study. So this is a vehicle for them. It is the only opportunity for their parents to help them to go to [college or university and it] is to get the scholarships,” Woolery declared.
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In spite of the dearth situation, last year Woolery said that Petersfield was planning strategically for the future and are looking to create shockwaves even higher than at the Boys and Girls Championship level, but at the world level.
In Woolery’s own words, “Petersfield has been a rising success and a rising institution when it comes on to track and field. We are not only a local brand but a global brand. We have had persons on the national team from 2009 and we want to continue to do that. We are paving the way for the future generation and we want to maintain the [Petersfield] legacy, and we hope someone can come on board and start to build on the legacy with Petersfield. The legacy is already there!”
I, for one, hope that Westmoreland residents, western Jamaica and corporate Jamaica lend their support to the Petersfield High sports program. On merit alone, they deserve it, and without a question, they need it.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.
This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 10, 2017.