‘School Away from School’ Working Wonders for World Cup-Chasing U-17 Boyz

Since introducing young players like Luton Shelton around 2001 now, 3 HVFC U17 Reggae Boyz players, namely Nicque Daley, Rennato Campbell and Jabari Howell are included in the World Cup-Chasing U-17 national team. The man spearheading the academic subset of the broader Under-17 Reggae Boyz residential camp sees the holistic programme bringing success on and off the field.

Onaje Bell, director of the MRC Family School, philosophises that groups of individuals from varied social backgrounds cohabiting or spending a lot of time together for a common purpose are more likely to reap success than those who pursue the opposite.

“The team that lives together will see that relationship on the pitch bound to improve, as the more time the individuals spend together, the more they get to know each other, and that can only impact positively,” the educator and businessman told the Jamaica Observer.

Bell, the son of MRC founder (an HVFC former striker) Russell Bell, was speaking against the background of his direct involvement with the tutorial programme of the Young Boyz who are preparing for the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Panama from April 21-May 7.
The World Cup-chasing Jamaicans have been embedded in a full-scale camp for the past two and half months — the first of its kind, but one which Bell thinks can be a model worth transplanting to other areas of life.

“I hope this (residential camp) will be a spark of what this nation needs, not only in football, but hopefully this will show that the organisation of talent can bring success,” he noted.

The last time Jamaica qualified for the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico six years ago, the cycle of players had the benefit of a six-week camp in Brazil, with Bell taking charge of the scholastic needs of the players then. That experience is still fresh in his mind.

“In that 2011 team, Omar Holness, Alvas Powell, Andre Lewis, Romario Jones, Romario WIlliams, Patrick Palmer, are among a bunch of them who went to Mexico after we were actually in a camp in Brazil for six weeks, and I had the opportunity to spend time with them over there and they were a bright, willing group of youngsters who were passionate about football.

“But back then we had a bunch of academic problems, but I am proud to say that the federation and this alliance have made history, because if it’s not 11, it’s about 13 of them are today either in college playing football or playing in the MLS professionally. And that is a success story, if you ask me,” Bell boasted.

The current camp, which is on the back-end after some 10 weeks, was a big challenge for organisers generally, but the academic portion brought its unique set of hurdles at the start.

“It was actually very challenging as these boys are coming from various schools — traditional and non-traditional — and some of them are outside of the Corporate Area. Plus these boys have to be doing a variety of subjects, so to bring all of them together is not the easiest and most feasible thing, but we have managed to source teachers to make it work,” Bell outlined.

He argued that while the various schools of the players have been largely responsive to the concept and purpose of the ‘school away from school’ in compromising for the sake of the national good, there were always prickly, underlying factors.

“Generally, a student belongs in school and there is no reason for him or her to be missing school, but students also will represent their country. But what we are doing is probably the best intermediate way, as otherwise it would be difficult to coordinate. Therefore, this may be the best viable option.

“I really don’t have any problems with the schools. I think the schools may have a problem with the situation, as they would not wish the kids to be out of school.

“But when you see what a programme like this can do for them (the students) as we work with them on a personal level and catering to them on an individual level, and this may help even more,” Bell noted.

Parents, he adds, have fully endorsed the camp and the schooling arrangements as they would want the best of both worlds for their children — the national footballer who is academically well catered to.

“The parents are all on board and are very appreciative and seem to be very appreciative of the federation’s initiative. And they all came to a meeting at the Jamaica Football Federation about two weeks before the start of the camp and they all had questions like where the school was, what is the approach like, and what are the social problems that may arise.

“But the latter raises another issue as there are no social problems like bad behaviour, as the boys are very well behaved and very well mannered but, of course, boys will be boys,” Bell said during a sit down with the

Observer at the MRC campus on Easton Avenue in Kingston on Friday.

According to Bell, the majority of the 25 local-based players taking part in the school programme have CSEC examinations coming up in May/June, and that has raised anxieties as the April/May timing of competition may impact the fluency of preparation.

“About 75 per cent of them have CSEC exams come May/June, and that is a serious challenge as you can imagine. They are going to leave April (for Panama… we are trying to make arrangements to travel with the team, if not we want to work out with the federation how best we can work on the follow-through,” Bell stated.

MRC, which started out as a mathematics after-school tutoring programme in 1992, has flourished as specialists in high school curricula at CSEC and CAPE levels, one-on-one tutorials, and custom curriculum design.

It is that breadth and specialisation that make the family run education business ideal for clients like the schoolboy footballers.

“We are focusing on the core subjects like math, English language, literature, principle of business, to name some, so we have created a core out of that. Then, of course, we go to the lab areas to see who needs the sciences,” explained Bell.

The 37-year-old points out that student athletes are often found to have a unique challenge, which he tenders is no fault of theirs, but more situational.

“In all of these you see the typical challenges which are the standard things Jamaican student athletes have problems with. They have been out of a conducive environment (for teaching and learning) so long that they have almost forgot how to function efficiently as a student, but that’s not their fault,” Bell reasoned.

“Again, I have to applaud the Jamaica Football Federation for such an initiative, and at the end of the day this is about football as we want them to qualify for the World Cup,” he ended.

Bell is a second-generation of father Russell and uncles Neville, Douglas, (all 3 former HVFC players) Jackie, Vernon, and Howard, all of whom have impacted the local game in various capacities and who represent the first family of Jamaica’s football.

Other uncles Clifford and Carl have had association with cricket, while Anthony preferred to take up the role as spectator of the Bell clan. Somebody had to watch over the other brothers.

Source: The Jamaica Observer