Twenty eight students and three officials from South Africa’s Willowridge High School arrived in the island, yesterday (March 22), for a 10-day visit, during which they will attend this week’s annual Boys’ and Girls’ Championships, at the National Stadium.
The group was met at the Norman Manley International Airport, in Kingston, by Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Hon. Olivia Grange and representatives from the South African High Commission and the Jamaica/South Africa Friendship Association.
Speaking with journalists at the airport, Minister Grange said the Ministry had arranged a number of activities for the group, including visits to several schools, such as St. Jago and St. Hugh’s High Schools and GC Foster College of Physical Education.
The Willowridge team will also attend the opening ceremony of the Championships at the National Stadium on March 23, starting at 5:30 p.m. Later, they will visit the South Africa High Commission and attend a cocktail reception hosted in their honour.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Hon. Olivia Grange (left), addressing students from South Africa’s Willowridge High School, shortly after their arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport, on March 22.
On Saturday, March 27, the students will be at the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships, where they will witness the handing over of the Queen’s Baton, which will be presented at the event.
Minister Grange said the visit will further strengthen the bond between South Africa and Jamaica.
“Jamaica has to continue to strengthen its bond with the continent of Africa and we do not have enough visits and exchanges and so this is a part of a deliberate effort to strengthen those ties,” she said.
The Minister said that during her visit to South Africa last year, the South African Minister of Sports had expressed an interest in bilateral co-operation with Jamaica in sports.
“I did meet with the Minister of Culture as well and we have signed that agreement, so what’s left to be signed is the bilateral agreement in sports between myself and the Minister of Sports on behalf of Jamaica and South Africa. And that will become a reality sometime this year,” she added.
The visit was initiated by the school’s head coach, Olympian Geraldine Pillay and approved by Minister Grange during her visit to South Africa to attend the Fourth World Summit on Arts and Culture, which was staged by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA) and the National Arts Council of South Africa, in Johannesburg.
Ms. Pillay said the idea to arrange the tour came about after attending the 2007 Boys’ and Girls’ Championships and observing the talent displayed by young Jamaican athletes.
“I thought it was a good opportunity for high school students to come and experience, not only the vibes around the preparation that goes into it, but on the track and off the track. It is also for them to get an opportunity to experience world class performances and to meet and see the world’s best athletes,” she said.
According to Ms. Pillay, the trip was arranged last year after she was appointed as the Athletics Director at the school.
“Last year I began working at Willowridge High School and I thought now was the opportune time for me to put the trip together,” she said, adding that she has plans to organise competitions for the high school athletes.
Ms. Pillay lived in Jamaica in 2007, when she trained with Mr. Stephen Francis and the Maximising Velocity Power (MVP) Track and Field Club at the University of Technology.
Grade 12 student at Willowridge High, Ofentse Motsogi, told JIS News that she was happy to be in Jamaica. Ofentse, who participates in Track and Field events at her school, said the trip provided an opportunity for her to see great athletic performances by Jamaican athletes.
“There are a lot of great athletes here and so we can learn a lot from what they have to tell us. They can really inspire us. It is one thing to see them on television, but it’s a different story when you get to meet them in person,” she said.