U.S.athletics scholarships are not always ideal Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
November 11, 2001

The United States of America is considered the mecca of many sports disciplines the English speaking Caribbean participate in and enjoy.

Athletics is a prominent one and many young Guyanese have acquired scholarships to institutions of education to speed up their development in the sport.

But of late the expected returns in development have been disappointing for many, giving cause for speculation on the merits for taking up such offers.

Recently the coach of one of the region's most promising young athlete Janill Williams made a startling revelation which could lend credence to the view that athletics scholarships to the United States are not the best option for all.

LeRoy Williams, coach of 16-year-old Williams who won two gold medals at the just concluded Pan American Under-20 championships in Argentina, was reported last week as saying that she will not take up any scholarship offer to the United States if offered because it would not make her a better athlete.

In light of hundreds of West Indian athletes who have accepted such scholarships in the past and the many whose goal it is to earn such, Williams' decision could be interpreted as extremely unorthodox.

He stated that his charge's specialty in distance running is not strong in the United States and that her accomplishments have surpassed the majority of women who compete on that country's college circuit. Thus he would prefer her to remain in the current environment in Antigua under the guidance of the people who have brought her to the standard she has attained presently and pursue training stints in Africa and Europe, which produce the best distance runners.

In the circumstances the coach's argument is quite valid as the United States was never a power in distance running in either the male or female category, making it counter productive to send Janill Williams to an institution to train and race against average competitors although East Europeans, who are traditionally very strong, are attending and where coaches have to attend to dozens of athletes at a time, as opposed to having the singular attention of the ones she has known all her life.

Le Roy Williams' views have highlighted only some of the disadvantages young athletes face when they venture overseas on scholarships and which would be useful to the many Guyanese who believe that a scholarship to America, regardless of the circumstances, is the only answer to their dreams for stardom.

It is well know that the United States has produced many of the world's greatest sprinters and have many excellent universities that have provided the foundations to maintain the country's high reputation to this day.

Thus, the U.S. college circuit would be ideal exposure for sprinters, but not every school there who scout for potential NCAA champions have the best athletics programmes.

Unfortunately many Guyanese athletes have made the mistake of grabbing any scholarship to come their way, regardless of its suitability which have led to their careers stagnating or sliding downhill instead of them becoming potential Olympic champions.

One example which comes readily to mind is former Central American and Caribbean Under-17 400 metres girls champion Onica Fraser, who won that title at 14 years of age.

After leaving Guyana to attend a United States high school, Fraser, who left behind her first coach and father along with strong family support,accepted a scholarship to Essex Community College in New Jersey.

But five years later when one have expected her to should have been a contender for Olympic medals, Fraser remarkably could only record the identical time she posted in winning the CAC Under-17 title, in her biggest race this year at the NCAA outdoor championships, representing Ohio State University.

This is an case of an athlete who accepted an unsuitable offer instead of staying on a little longer in the capable hands of her father until a better offer came along from one of the quality athletics schools.

Of course Guyanese athletes would be eager to escape the hassles of being a competitor at home where in most cases it is harder work obtaining money for competition overseas, than preparing for it on the track.

But many get caught up in institutions where the conditions are sub par, and without the support of family members, those athletes drift out of the sport and pursue other activities.

Thus it is very important for our athletes to attend the best suitable schools that could provide the right competition, high class facilities and quality coaching.

Le Roy Williams has broken the trend of scholarship grabbing and it should be important for Guyanese coaches and athletes to follow his lead and intelligently seek the best for themselves and their charges when venturing overseas.