A Quarter Century Of Offering Food, Friendship And Family To Nation’s Athletes At Penn Relays
Twenty-four years after Irwine Clare and friends stretched out their hands to help Jamaican students attending the Penn Relays in Pennsylvania, United States (US), little did he know that he was planting a seed that would grow into a huge tree known as Team Jamaica Bickle.
A family of volunteers, alumni, Jamaicans in the diaspora, and friends of Jamaica have extended their hands, homes, time and pockets to a growing number of Jamaican students, some entering the US for the first time to perform.
Clare, chief executive officer and founder of Team Jamaica Bickle, told a Gleaner Editors Forum last week that his organisation represents volunteerism and patriotism at their best.
“The whole story of Team Jamaica Bickle revolves around volunteerism, which is a terminology today that has lost a lot of lustre, but more and more becomes significant, especially in the challenging times that we now have,” Clare said.
He explained that the name arose from a brainstorm that revolved around food and Jamaica, and years later a brand of Jamaica was formed.
“The whole concept came about, as Jamaica has been sending athletes to the Penn Relays for more than 50 years. Jamaicans in the diaspora view Penn Relays as a yearly vigil. They go to be enthused by the performance of our athletes. This is our high school championships. And once the schools come to the relays, they are no longer just names, they are Jamaica,” Clare said.
DOMINATING FRANKLIN FIELD
Jamaican schools have been dominating sprint relays at the prestigious Franklin Field for years, sending the massive number of persons living in the US who make the annual visit into a frenzy.
For years, the top schools at Jamaica’s Boys and Girls’ Championship have won the Championship of America high school boys 4×100 metres relay in Pennsylvania.
Jamaican high schools were finally defeated, after years of dominance, by a California high school with the help of Jamaican schoolboy Carlos Samuels, who ran the back stretch on the relays. Samuels is now the coach of The Queen’s School. He also previously coached at Manchester High School.
Since then, local schools have retained their dominance at the relays.
According to Clare, Jamaicans pump as much as US$800,000 into the US economy during the week of activities, which has given the small island with the history of locomotive speed sprinters pride of place at Franklin Field.
With the addition of new schools each year, he said, they arrive at the University of Pennsylvania stadium seeking glory for their country, and run to the applause of adoring fans.
“We embrace our teams out of Jamaica as Team Jamaica. So yes, we wear our respective colours, but we are Team Jamaica,” he said.
STEP UP TO THE PLATE
Cognisant of the economic background of most of the youngsters, Clare said there was need for alumni associations and community groups to step up to the plate to address some of the challenges that affected the performance of the athletes.
The Jamaica Progressive League in Philadelphia would, in the early days, host a banquet, but that came at the end of the relays.
However, after students from an all-boys school emptied buckets of chicken during one of their trips, Clare said the signal was sent that food had to become an integral part of what was offered to the students.
“It brought to us that these kids were hungry and food was obviously important. So we reached out, and the question was how to get food to the athletes during the relays, and to whom can we reach to provide these kinds of food,” he explained.
Paying tribute to diaspora member Vincent HoSang, Clare said his generosity knows no bounds when it comes to Jamaican students.
A commitment given years ago started with a GE trailer that needed to be balanced. That was the beginning of an athletes’ feeding programme that moved from sandwiches, and rice and curry goat, to today’s five-star restaurant, which is fully operational for three days at the Penn Relays.
‘Our athletes, our ambassadors’ is what underpins the work of Team Jamaica Bickle, and for the founder and his team of volunteers in New York and Philadelphia, today it offers legal, chiropractic, transportation, and accommodation among its services to continue the winning tradition of the Jamaican teams.
Members of Team Jamaica Bickle came to Jamaica recently to participate in the just-concluded Boys and Girls’ Championship.
By: Erica Virtue