The Sister Mary Patricia Russell Panthers and the Tabernacle Falcons have received recognition as champions of the 2019/2020 GBSSAA (Grand Bahama Secondary School Athletic Association) High School Track and Field Championships.
The Panthers, led by then Coach Derek Wells, returned to the mountain top of the junior division, while the Falcons won their eighth-straight senior division title. To make the occasion that much more special, the champions received their awards from Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture and former Olympian, Iram Lewis.
The event is sponsored annually by KFC and Pizza, and representatives Aniska Saunders (KFC) and Fallon Symonette (Pizza Hut) were also present to congratulate the teams.
Also on hand were Linda Malcom, who the Female Athlete of the Year award was named after, and Wayne Smith, whose name, the Male Athlete of the Year award carries.
The Panthers’ Alfrenique Knowles was named the junior Female Athlete of the Year, while the Falcons’ Collinique Farrington got the Female Athlete of the Year award for the senior division.
Knowles was excited and said she was "incredibly grateful to coach Wells for helping her."
“I felt good about winning this. I just want to thank Coach Wells for everything he’s done to help me. I’ve really missed track and field this year but my training has been going well.”
Farrington said the hard work she put in was an indication that she might get the award.
“I feel it was expected. I'm not knocking other athletes, but I know the work that I put in, and this is the outcome of that. So, I feel excited and I’m happy.”
Winning the junior Male Athlete of the Year award was the Panthers’ Roshane Tucker. The Falcons’ Matthew Henfield received recognition as the senior Male Athlete of the Year.
Tucker admitted he was shocked to have won the award but nonetheless was incredibly grateful to the association and his coach.
“It really was surprising because I wasn’t expecting to win the most outstanding athlete award. I just want to thank my coach because he really pushed me hard to run to the best of my ability and I feel our school did very well.”
Henfield credited the team’s head coach, Nickito Johnson, and the hard work during those long practice sessions.
“Individually, I felt I did really great. Our coach pushed us really hard and conditioned us for the events. I’m really happy and thankful for coach Johnson because he’s always been encouraging us in our individual races.
“With all the teachers, administration and coaches in the stands cheering us on, the school was able to perform really well. We put God first in everything we do.”
Finally, Wells was recognized as the Coach of the Year in the junior division, while Johnson won the senior division’s top coaching honors.
Wells, who has now taken over the reins as coach at St. George’s High School, shared that the 2019-2020 season, his last with the Panthers, was tough but the team was motivated after losing the previous year by three points to the Falcons.
“We (Panthers) really had a bone to pick with them. We had won five-straight times up to 2018-2019 when we lost by approximately three points. We had to try and come back in 2019-2020 and dominate. That was rough but we pulled it off.”
Johnson recounted that he and the Falcons had to make up some ground after the Jaguars took an early lead in the senior standings. However, he pointed out that by the third day of competition the Falcons were able to take and maintain the lead.
Now with Wells at the helm for the Jaguars in the senior division, Johnson says he knows that he has his work cut out for him for years to come.
“I give Derek his kudos. We are really good friends and we talk about it all the time. He’s said before, he doesn’t think he can beat me this year or maybe another, because of the depth of talent I have. But I’ll never sleep on Derek.
“Even in the junior division, the competition went down to the wire. With Derek in place at St. George’s, I’m not going to tell you I’m afraid, but I got some work to do.”
Lewis reminded the athletes in his address that life is about choices and urged each student to make the right choices in life.
He went on to share that the personal trials he went through felt like punishment at the time, but he realized that "those very trials had prepared him for the seat he holds in parliament." He encouraged the athletes to remain confident and strong whenever they face obstacles.
“I’m encouraging you, don’t even give up. I would have traveled and stepped on every rung of the ladder, from primary school, high school, collegiate athlete. I had choices to make.
“I still have a lot to learn, still have a long way to go. Like your theme says, I will continue to strive for excellence. Remember that word today, you have choices to make. Make the right choices.”