Vincentians walk for Penn Relays

Vincentians walk for Penn Relays
Vincentians assemble for a photo after participating in the Walk-a-thon at Marine Park in Brooklyn.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The rain held up, after drenching New York almost non-stop for over 24 hours, but it was very cold and blustery, as Vincentians braved the elements on Saturday morning, April, to demonstrate their fervent support for national athletes participating in this year’s Penn Relays Carnival, at the Franklin Field Stadium, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

More than 24 nationals, including, for the first time, some members of the Brooklyn-based Garifuna Indigenous People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (GIPSVG), participated in the fund-raising Walk-a-ton, organized by the Brooklyn-based Club St. Vincent, Inc., at the expansive Marine Park in the southern tip of Brooklyn.

“This is a wonderful thing,” exclaimed James Cordice, the mastermind and founder of the Vincentian Penn Relays initiative, who trekked from Philadelphia to be part of the event, as participants converged in front of the park’s recreational building for post-walk featured addresses. “You’re doing this in the interest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The untiring Cordice, former president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP), disclosed that he had returned from St. Vincent and the Grenadines a few days before, where, among other things, he witnessed the annual Inter-Secondary Schools Athletic Championship at the Arnos Vale Sporting Complex.

“And I can assure you that the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Grammar School (SVGGS) will be coming to the Penn Relays,” he affirmed.

TSSS was the only Vincentian secondary school to participate in the Penn Relays for the past six years.

Cordice said, after several years of pleading for greater Vincentian secondary schools’ participation in the illustrious games, SVGGS, one of the nation’s older and elite secondary schools, has finally obliged. The SVGGS was renowned for its perennial athletic prowess until it was upstaged, a few years ago, by the newly-established TSSS.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) was also expected to participate in the Penn Relays for the first time this year, but that did not materialize, Cordice said.

Cordice said, for the first time, no female team will represent TSSS at the three-day carnival, from April 27-29, stating that the girls had failed to attain the qualifying time in pre-game championships in the region. The SVGGS is an all-boys secondary school.

TSSS and SVGGS will compete in different categories in the 4×100 and 4x400m in the games. SVGGS will compete in the larger schools’ category, and the TSSS will compete in the smaller schools’ category, because of their respective student body, Cordice said.

The Penn Relays, the oldest and largest collegiate athletic meet in the United States, is celebrating its 123rd year this month.

“I just want to commend Club St. Vincent, Inc. [one of the larger Vincentian cultural and educational groups in the US] for the efforts [in hosting the fundraising Walk-a-ton],” said Laverne McDowald-Thompson, president of the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the US.

“We just want you to continue to do this,” added the former elementary school teacher in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stating that a fund has also been established by COSAGO and SVGOP to assist Vincentian athletes participating in the Penn Relays.

As it has done for the past six years, COSAGO will again this year organize a bus-load of nationals to take the at least two-hour trip, on the last day of the games, Saturday, to cheer on the competing Vincentian athletes, McDowald-Thompson said.

“So, we’re looking for your support,” she told the gathering. “If you’re interested, please let us know.”

Three sisters from the DeShong family in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital — Yvette, Evelyn and Rosita — as well as Kingstown native Claudette Thomas-Butler, have, over the years, collaborated with COSAGO in conducting an annual fundraising Prayer Breakfast in September to assist Vincentian athletes at the Penn Relays. McDowald-Thompson said the sisters and Thomas-Butler are referred to as “The Friends of COSAGO.”

Ava Baptiste, a GIPSVG member, who hails from Owia, a village in the north, north eastern coast of mainland St. Vincent, said her group was delighted to participate in the Walk-a-ton for the very first time, and to support fellow villager, GIPSVG public relations officer, Harley Stoddard.

Stoddard told Caribbean Life afterwards that his nephew, Zwicka Charles, 16, a Form 4 student at SVGGS, will represent the school in competing in the Penn Relays.

Ancilla Friday, Club St. Vincent, Inc.’s public relations officer, also told Caribbean Life that the group hoped to raise at least US$3,000 from the Walk-a-ton, a similar figure to last year’s.

“I’m thanking everybody who came out,” said Grafton “Preem” Greaves, president of Club St. Vincent, Inc. in very terse remarks. “Hope to see you next year.”

After competing in the Penn Relays on April 29, the Vincentian athletes will be among supporters and nationals at a gala reception in the evening at the Vincentian-owned Calabash Restaurant and Catering House on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. The athletes and supporters will also participate in a lavish brunch the next day at the same venue.

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