Registration is open for 2015 Caribbean Scholastic Invite in CUBA!!

by Steve Underwood

Registration is now open for any and all American high school track and field athletes to sign up for the 2015 Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (CSI), being held for the first time in Havana, Cuba.  There will be 28 U.S. preps chosen in early April by the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation (NSAF) to be part of the exciting, history-making competition June 12-13, 2015 in Havana’s famous Estadio Panamericano, the site of the 1991 Pan American Games – as CSI is revived after a one-year hiatus. 

Register here:

IMPORTANT: Athletes MUST have a valid U.S. passport (valid through December, 2015) in their possession by April 1, 2015.  The Foundation will purchase Visas for the athletes.  Athletes will leave for Miami on June 9 and return home on June 14.

Events contested in Cuba will include the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, the 800-meter run, the 100- (girls), 110- (boys) and 400-meter hurdles, the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays and all field events except the pole vault.  Those who have performed well in these events, both in 2014 and early 2015, will be strongly considered for selection, especially those who have met the tough entry standards mentioned on the registration site.  The NSAF is looking primarily for underclassmen, but may consider seniors at its discretion.

Athletes who compete at next weekend’s New Balance Nationals Indoor (March 13-15) and who finish high in the 200, 400, 800, high jump, long jump, triple jump, and shot put will be looked at closely – and strong finishes in the short indoor dashes, hurdles and weight throw may also be taken into account.  The NSAF plans to begin extending invitations after NBNI and the team will be finalized in early April.  Team NSAF will train and compete in uniforms and footwear provided by New Balance, sponsor of our NBN Indoor and Outdoor meets.

On the other hand, the NSAF would like to emphasize that team selection is NOT based on performance ONLY.  There will be an attempt to create a geographically diverse team and things like coaches’ recommendations of high-character student-athletes – who can comport themselves with maturity in a group setting on an international trip – will be taken into account very strongly.  In the end, the team selection will be at the discretion of the NSAF.

The NSAF began the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in 2006 with a dual purpose: One, to expose rising track and field stars – with more potential Team USA berths in their futures – to international competition at an early stage of their career.  Hence, juniors and sophomores are typically chosen, though the NSAF may make exceptions. 

The other purpose of the event is for an exchange of cultural goodwill between American athletes and those from Caribbean nations.  CSI had typically taken place in Puerto Rico and been very successful during eight meets since.  Competing in Cuba, though, brings a new level of excitement, competition and a “history-making” vibe to this annual event. 

NSAF Executive Director Jim Spier, Chief Operating Officer Joy Kamani and Edwin Rivera (who translated and is the father of elite thrower Sophia Rivera) traveled to Havana in January to meet with Cuban athletics officials – including Olympic legend Alberto Juantorena – to iron out the details. 

“We’re overjoyed that this will take place,” said Spier.  “As far as I know, this will be the first time that U.S. junior athletes have competed in Cuba since 1997 (Pan Am Juniors).”

One might assume that the genesis of this event was the political developments of December 17, 2014, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a reestablishment of diplomatic relations and intentions to loosen travel and economic policies.  But this would not be accurate.  “We applied the ‘old fashioned way,’” said Spier, “through the Treasury Department – the same way we did in 1997 when John Blackburn, Mike Byrnes and I went to the Pan Am Junior champs.”

This past September, the Foundation had consulted among itself regarding different possible Caribbean venues that might attract more diverse competition.  Could we possibly send a team to Cuba, NSAF officials wondered?  It was a question that inspired interest and investigation.

“Joy and I had always wanted to bring the team to Cuba,” said Spier, “or the Bahamas or some other Caribbean island where the Caribbean nations did not need a visa to go.”  He and Kamani emphasized that most Caribbean nations had needed U.S. visas to travel to Puerto Rico, which are extremely difficult and expensive to get.

Spier said that the application process for this event began this past October and was made relatively easy by cooperative U.S. government officials, particularly LaTalia Williams from the Treasury Department.  She is a former hurdler who has an understanding of the sport, he added.  “We had a very good rapport over the past few months.”

Spier and Kamani also hope that this 2015 CSI will draw athletes from more Caribbean nations, particularly Jamaica.

Athletes who have competed for Team NSAF have included many who have gone on to Team USA berths at the World Juniors, World Champs (seniors) and even the Olympics – as well as becoming NCAA champs.  The “alumni list” includes Marquise Goodwin, Jessica Beard, Arman Hall, Bianca Knight, Wayne Davis II, Omar Craddock, Gunnar Nixon, Shamier Little, Devon Allen, Avionne Allgood, Joe Kovacs, Olivia Ekpone, Jennifer Madu, Johnny Dutch, Kendell Williams (the heptathlete/hurdler/jumper), Kendal Williams (the sprinter), Dior Hall and many more.

Finally, as the NSAF plans this historic event, it will never forget the influence of the its late board member and coach, Cedric Walker, who passed away in March, 2013.  Coach Walker was instrumental in the development of CSI, a powerful, caring mentor to all of the athletes who have participated over the years, and would have been thrilled to witness this new direction for the event.

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