Three Vincentian athletes from the Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS), who participated in the prestigious Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, were given special recognition Sunday during the St. Vincent and the Grenadines 40th Independence Anniversary Gala Luncheon at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn.
Zenron Chance, Kailon Kirby and Brandon Valentine-Parris were recognized, with certificates, by the umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO).
COSAGO president Laverne McDowald-Thompson said the athletes’ “outstanding achievements have paved the way” for them to attend colleges in the US, adding: “We are very proud of you.”
Since its inception, eight years ago, the Vincentian Penn Relays initiative has been coordinated and spearheaded by the Philadelphia-based Vincentian community activist James Cordice.
Chance told patrons on Sunday that his recognition would not “be possible without your support.”
Kirby was also present at the ceremony, but Valentine-Parris was reportedly sick and was, therefore, absent.
Chance said he attended TSSS in 2012, “with numerous goals in mind,” adding that participating in the Penn Relays was not one of them, “because I had no idea what the Penn Relays was when I first started my athletic career with Mr. (Godfrey) Harry (TSSS’s head coach).
“However, he made sure that I understood what it was and that I had the opportunity to attend the relays,” he said.
In 2015, Chance was picked, for the first time, to attend the Penn Relays.
He also participated in the relays carnival in 2016 and 2017 before graduating from TSSS later in 2017 with two awards, Student of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.
After high school, Chance said he was offered an opportunity to study at the Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn, where he graduated with an associate degree.
At KCC, he said he achieved “a lot of awards,” such as: Male Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year 2018; Male Indoor Scholar Athlete of the Year 2018; Male Outdoor Scholar Athlete of the Year 2018; Male Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year 2019; Male Indoor Scholar Athlete of the Year 2019; National Athlete of the Week in April 2019; CUNYAC (City University of New York Athletic Conference) Community College Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year 2019; NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Two-Time, All-American in the 400-meter hurdles; NJCAA Two-Time, All American in the 400 meters; NJCAA Two-Time All American in the 4×400-meter relay; and NJCAA One-Time, All American in the 4×100-meter relay.
Chance is currently a junior at the Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C
Kirby attended TSSS and participated at the 2014 and 2015 Penn Relays, running in the 4×100 and 4x400m relay squads before graduating in 2015.
He then earned a scholarship to attend KCC in 2016.
A year later, in 2017, after participating in the 2017 CUNYAC/Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) Community College Indoor Track & Field Championships, Kirby was awarded Indoor MVP Champion, having won first place in the Men’s High Jump and being part of the winning squad in the Men’s 4x400m relay.
In that year, he said he was also awarded the All American National Champion at the All American 2017 Outdoor Track and Field, excelling in the 110-meter hurdles.
Kirby graduated from KCC with an associate degree in 2018. He then earned both academic and athletic scholarships to attend Post University in Connecticut, pursuing a bachelor’s degree sports management.
“I must say thank you to my coaches, Mr. James Cordice, COSAGO, Club SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), the DeShong sisters and the other organizations for their solid support,” he said.
Valentine-Parris entered TSSS in 2006, but his track and field journey started in 2009, when he represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the CAC (Caribbean and Central American) Juvenile Championships.
In 2011, he was a part of the first ever Penn Relay team to represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“With a tremendous amount of support, we went to Philadelphia and won both our heats in the 4x400m and 4x100m races in the Small School, High School Boys category,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been granted awesome opportunities from that exposure.”
In 2014, Valentine-Parris said he earned a full track scholarship to Claflin University, where I began undergraduate studies in computer science.
Two years later, he represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the Rio Olympic Games in the 400m.
In 2018, Valentine-Parris said he transferred to St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C., where he’s majoring in sports management and business administration.
Since enrolling at St. Augustine’s, Valentine-Parris said he has become a two-time indoor champion at the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) Conference Championships and a six-time outdoor champion in the 200m, 400m, 4x100m and 4x400m.
He’s also a 13-time NCAA All-American Champion in the same four events and a NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) National Champion in the 4x400m relay.
Just a few weeks ago, Valentine-Parris said he was again called on “to carry the diamonds on my back” at the IAAF International Association of Athletics Federations) World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
“My journey was never easy but was made possible by the power, grace and mercy of The Almighty Father up above,” he said. “I have a praying mother who is always running up and down in the living room when streaming my races.
“I really want to express many thanks to COSAGO, Club SVG, The DeShong sisters and the other organizations for their never-ending support on this long road to success,” he added. “Special mention of Sherrill-Ann Haywood (chairperson of the Brooklyn-based SVG Diaspora Committee of New York), who was my exclusive motivational speaker.
“But I can’t say thanks without the mention of someone who basically adopted me as his own. He became a father to me and made sure that my journey academically and athletically was as smooth as possible – Mr. James Cordice,” Valentine-Parris said.