ISSA Boys & Girls Championships
Where Star Athletes Debut
Jamaica has repeatedly established itself on the world stage as a central hub for up-and-running track and field stars. Many attribute this success to a century-old major event known as the Inter-Secondary School Association (ISSA) Boys and Girls Championships, affectionately called Champs. It's an event better witnessed than described, so join in on a rousing pastime that grips the nation every year.
ISSA Boys and Girls Championships Event Details
Event Day: March 24-28, 2020
Location: National Stadium, Kingston
Start Time: Varies each day
Registration Details: ISSA website
ISSA Champs History
Earlier versions of the ISSA Champs were separated into boys and girls sports days, but by 1999, combining genders birthed the exciting Boys and Girls Champs experience known today.
It is one of the longest running school sports competitions in the Western Hemisphere where several world-class Jamaican athletes have made their debut. Enthralling sporting events separated by age classes include sprints, relays, hurdles, high/long/triple jump, pole vault, discus, shot put, javelin, and heptathlon.
The four-day occasion is staged around Easter in the ever-buzzing capital city of Kingston. Supporters are often decked in colors of their school of choice and cheer in distinctive packs that paint the stadium’s stands. Over 100 high schools from across the island battle for titles and new records, creating a tense but enjoyable frenzy.
Student athletes share raw emotions from remarkable triumphs and crushing defeats before a massive audience. This obsession consistently draws crowds of thousands into the National Stadium, while even more are glued to screens watching live broadcasts. Whether you’re inside the stadium, against the outer fence, or watching on devices, Champs fever infects the island and the symptoms show everywhere.
Roaring cheers, banging percussions, and the horns of colored vuvuzelas fill the atmosphere. In the hands of spectators are styrofoam cups brimming with scorching soup, husks of roast corn, and foil-wrapped jerk chicken drizzled with ketchup and pepper purchased from makeshift stoves just outside the stadium walls. The high demand of the crammed event often requires sweeping security to curb the scaling of these walls from those not fortunate enough to secure a coveted ticket.
The Girls and Boys Championships is the biggest high school track and field event anywhere in the world, often attracting overseas college coaches.
ISSA Champs was virtually unknown to mainstream international media until recent years. The emergence of a disproportionate number of Jamaican sprinters in the Olympic Games and World Championships in athletics, including eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt, is when the rest of the world really began to take notice of Jamaica’s track and field prolificacy. Each race seems to be even more exciting than the last.
“It's the biggest thing us athletes look forward to every year – I still go every year – it's like the World Championships or the Olympics,” Usain Bolt told The Guardian.