A late protest threatened to produce a final unexpected twist to the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division honour role, as a Shiva Boys Hindu College challenge against Presentation College (San Fernando) offered a glimmer of hope to relegation-threatened San Juan North Secondary.
Presentation forward James Alex Lee Yaw was at the centre of the furore as Shiva Boys questioned whether his academic qualification were sufficient for him to represent his school in the SSFL last season.
Lee Yaw, who was born in the United States to a Trinidadian father, began his local school life in Lower Six at Presentation. However, he got seven subjects at Grade 12, which is supposedly the American equivalent of the CXC test.
The SSFL rules stipulate that a player must have four CXC passes to represent his school in Lower Six.
Presentation had already lost one protest last season over the use of Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 defender Kori Cupid, who was ineligible to compete due to the year he entered secondary school. Cupid played roughly one quarter of his school’s games and the ruling meant that the “Pres Lions” dropped from second to fifth in the final standings.
Had Lee Yaw been also deemed an illegitimate player, Presentation would have been relegated. However, the SSFL credentials committee, appeals committee and, ultimately, the Ministry of Education’s accreditation committee all declared the teenager to be a legitimate student.
The decision meant Presentation held on to the South Zone Intercol title, which they won after edging Shiva Boys on kicks from the penalty mark. And, better yet, they remain a top flight team for the upcoming season.
However, it is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for San Juan North, who finished one place and a solitary point above the relegation zone at the end of the season, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet as protests against Cupid and East Mucurapo Secondary defender Abdus Ramcharan—who had three CXC passes—saw points belatedly awarded to Queen’s Royal College and Fatima College.
QRC and Fatima both leapfrogged San Juan North to escape demotion while East Mucurapo dropped places to the foot of the 15-team table where they will also be relegated along with Pleasantville Secondary.
Presentation coach Shawn Cooper said he was never worried about the Shiva Boys protest.
“I think Shiva Boys have to know, just like us, that you win some and you lose some,” Cooper told Wired868. “They were a bit disturbed when they lost to us in the South Intercol final and the Big Four semifinal. So they decided to go that route…
“We only played the boy after he was granted permission by the Ministry and the Secondary Schools board. The boy was in school and we didn’t play him until he was cleared. He is a legal student of the school, so I don’t know what the protest was really about.”
The dust has finally cleared from the protest board and it does not look good for San Juan North. SSFL president William Wallace confirmed that there is no scheduled meeting to consider a special provision to keep the National Intercol champions up and play with an additional Premier Division school next season.
The only delay in the final decision for the boys from Bourg Mulatresse is due to the wait in getting signatures from the relevant arbitrators.
It will be the second time that the reigning Intercol champions were relegated, after East Mucurapo managed the dubious distinction in 2014. But the off-field circumstances make San Juan North’s fall much harder to swallow.
Cooper said he sympathised with San Juan North, although he felt Presentation had been unfairly castigated in certain quarters for an inadvertent error regarding Cupid.
“When you see talk about banning a school for information it doesn’t have, you know people are speaking on emotion,” said Cooper. “It is unfortunate for San Juan the way things spun out but it was just the luck of the draw… I wouldn’t have liked to be in San Juan’s position. It is very unfortunate.”
Wallace told Wired868, in a previous interview, that the SSFL has requested office space from the Ministry of Sport and hopes to have a full-time secretariat in place for the upcoming season, which should help to lessen the likelihood of similar post-season upheavals.
“We are now 50 years old and we have been operating out of a car trunk for that time,” said Wallace. “With $2 million annually coming into this league, it is about time we have a steady secretariat. Some of the problems we have been having in the past were probably because [we did not have] that.
“Also we want to have a computerised database [which will] eliminate some of the problems that happened last season… We already have somebody setting up the required databases for us.”
Cooper said he urged the SSFL to hire office staff for years and was happy to hear that it is finally a priority.
“Instead of allowing things to happen and then penalising, [the SSFL should be able to] call the school beforehand and warn about possible issues,” said Cooper. “San Juan didn’t do anything wrong and they got demoted because documents went in from another school that were not checked. I’m not blaming anyone but we have to get tighter in the running of the league.”
In 2016, Presentation was runner-up in the National Intercol and Big Four finals while they were second in the Premier Division before the Cupid protest. Cooper insisted it was a great season for the San Fernando school.
“We exceeded our expectations in getting into all the finals,” he said. “I don’t think trophies alone is the benchmark for success. If your child doesn’t come first in test, [you will tell them] they failed?”