This morning I was waiting at the bus stop with my SO for a bus or taxi to take to Half Way Tree, one of the stops on our way to work. We were talking about the sports we both love (cricket for me, football for him) when a woman across the road caught my eye. She bent over to tie the straps to her slippers, but that was not what stopped me in my tracks. Oh no. That was the green shirt with the words “CALABAR” in black across the front, a striped black and green tie, a black jacket pulled over it, a black and green striped skirt and the black strapped slippers that matched her black handbag. There was obviously a theme going on here, one which any Jamaican and I do believe many non-Jamaicans across the world may recognize.
For the past week Kingston has been playing host to the event known as the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships (known across the nation as Champs), a friendly athletic competition between secondary schools in Jamaica that was first held in 1910 at the test cricket grounds at Sabina Park (according to wiki). Aside from the Olympics, this is possibly the most watched event in the island and an opportunity that Jamaicans the world over use to display their school’s colors and cheer them on loudly. I don’t mean that they just go down to the National Stadium or watch on their television and cheer. Hells no. I mean they wear their school’s colors to work (and basically every where they go for this specific week), they tie flags or cloths with their school colors to their vehicles, wear their school ties, wear socks with their school colors. All while watching TV, cheering at the National Stadium or listening radio at home, in a taxi or bus, and even in their own car. No matter where you go in the island you will find a radio or a TV that’s broadcasting Champs or someone talking about a race that was just run. Even the high schools themselves that participate get in on it by hanging large banners with the school’s colors and name at the front of the campus. Don’t believe me? Then next time you visit Jamaica this time of year take a walk into your nearest fast food restaurant, take a taxi or bus, ask a bystander (or a group of them) how Champs is going or even walk past any of the schools. You’ll see what I mean.
On the second and last leg of my journey there was a coaster bus with the huge purple and white flag of Kingston College (KC) hanging out the window proudly displayed by one of KC’s students (who didn’t seem to be on his way to school seeing as that establishment was not in the direction the coaster was heading). I mentioned Calabar and KC specifically in this mumble because as all Jamaicans know, there has been a friendly rivalry between the two schools for years. At the time I wrote this (Friday morning), KC was first place in points standings with Calabar in second place.
Now, even though Champs has been going on for the past week, everyone is looking forward to the final day, Saturday. This is the time when the National Stadium becomes jam packed with people clapping, waving flags, and cheering on their own schools. All of this might seem weird to some but honestly, it’s just another year of Champs to Jamaicans.