By Nelson A. King
After creating history by becoming the first country in Central and South America to compete in the illustrious Penn Relays in more than 80 years, the principal of the Belize high school that participated in last month’s relays carnival has pledged to be back.
“We will definitely be back at the Penn Relays,” vowed Dr. Jeremy “Jackie” Cayetano, of the Stann Creek Ecumenical High School, in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview over the weekend.
“Mr. Cordice has indicated that he will continue to support our team,” added Dr. Cayetano, referring to James Cordice, the Vincentian-born, Philadelphia-based architect behind Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the oldest and largest collegiate athletic meet in the United States.
The Penn Relays is held annually, during the last weekend in April, at the Franklin Field Stadium, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Some Belizeans have also pledged to support, including the Belizean Ambassador to the United States,” Cayetano said. “As a school, we will definitely begin fundraising early, so that we are prepared for April next year.”
In the interim, the principal said the Stann Creek Ecumenical High School, in the Belizean town of Dangriga, has adopted three criteria for participation in the Penn Relays.
“Our students need to have a passing GPA [grade point average], they need to have a good disciplinary record, and they need to be able to run the races in at least the average time of the others running the Penn Relays,” she said.
“Once the students meet these expectations, we will definitely participate next year,” she assured.
Cayetano said Stann Creek Ecumenical High School attended the Penn Relays “because of the support, encouragement and persistence of James Cordice, and also because, after hearing and understanding what it would be for our students, community and country, it was an opportunity that we could not pass up.”
Cordice told a reception in Philadelphia for Belizean and Vincentian athletes, after last month’s Penn Relays, that, “in 1937, a Panamanian team came to the Penn Relays and, since that time — until now — there has not been a team from Central America participating in the games.”
Cordice, a community advocate, was instrumental in having two St. Vincent and the Grenadines high schools – The Thomas Saunders Secondary School and the St. Vincent Grammar School – compete in the Penn Relays Carnival for the past eight years.
Earlier this year, Cordice undertook a special trip to Belize, convincing at least one high school – Stann Creek Ecumenical – to participate in the games.
The 10-member Stan Creek contingent — comprising seven athletes and three officials — Cayetano, Assistant Principal Gregory Ovado and Head Coach and Councilman Gary Francisco — lauded Cordice for facilitating the historic initiative.
“Salute to our athletes!” Cayetano told a reception for athletes from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, at the Vincentian-owned Calabash Restaurant and Lounge on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, at the conclusion of the Penn Relays.
“Extreme thanks to Mr. Cordice,” she added. “You are part of our family. We take this love from the Penn Relays back home.”
Ovado echoed her boss’s remarks, adding: “Today, we made history. Today, for the first time, we have anybody from Belize [competing in the Penn Relays].
“I’m totally proud of them,” added Ovado, referring to the Stann Creek athletes.
Though the Belizean athletes did not match up to most of their competitors in their first Penn Relays effort, they, nonetheless, gave a good account of themselves, Cordice said.
Francisco also said Cordice “gave this town [Dangriga] and this community hope – something we haven’t received in years.
“This was the start of what is now history,” said Francisco about Stann Creek’s participation in the Penn Relays.
Cayetano said, while Cordice was the main person behind the initiative, Norman Koko, Brandon Flores and Coach Francisco prepared the students.
She also said the Sports Committee of Stann Creek Ecumenical College “organized and executed fund raising events,” and that the Dangriga Business Community supported financially.
“The school board, faculty, staff, students and parents were all instrumental,” Cayetano said.
“Our country has limited representation in the Olympics each year, very limited representation,” she declared.
“We believe that, if we train our athletes to compete against the running times of the athletes at the Penn Relays and afford them the opportunity to attend the Penn Relays, in the next few years, we should have athletes at the standard of the Olympics competently and proudly representing our country at the international level,” Cayetano added.
“Besides that, we believe that the value to the individual athletes is invaluable,” she continued. “We, as a school, take pride in supporting the athletic skills of our students.
“We are very proud of the performance of the students,” the principal said. “However, with the proper training that we are putting into effect, we anticipate a much stronger performance in future competitions.”