KINGSTON, Jamaica - The Jamaican leg of the Scotiabank NextPlay Cup came to a fitting conclusion with an exciting final game, and stakeholder united in a voice as they hailed a successful first staging.
At the Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex on Saturday, and under a searing Jamaican sun, Holy Family Primary has crowned champions after edging Emmanuel Christian Academy 2-1. Rousseau Primary edged Portsmouth Primary 1-0 for third-place.
In addition to lifting the spectacular trophy, Holy Family Primary - a school located in a rough urban community called Southside in the capital Kingston - will also be making a trip to the Concacaf Gold Cup final in Chicago next summer as part of its prize.
Concacaf Football Ambassador, former Reggae Boyz star Ricardo Gardener, was swallowed up by joy at the "magical" finale to the first staging of the grassroots tournament, plus he was moved to see the joy on the faces of the players when they hoisted the glittering trophy.
"It is a great feeling to see the youngsters having fun, especially at this age, and they are getting a great opportunity and once you get opportunities, the sky is the limit... also it is great to see what Concacaf and Scotiabank are doing for the youngsters and it is good for them to learn the principles from now.
"I would love to see things like this happen every day, and as I said before, these things create opportunities for the youth to grow, and not only into great players but as a great human being as well. Now they are learning how important it is to be a part of a group, and learning to love and care for each other," the former Bolton Wanderers standout told concacaf.com.
Gardner, who is also a former Jamaica captain, said the match-up between Holy Family Primary and Emmanuel Christian Academy lived up to its top billing.
"It was a very exciting final, and you could see the intensity, and you see them (players) trying to express themselves, and that is what football is about, and you could see also that they were trying to organize themselves out there and were clearly following the coaches' instructions," noted Gardner.
Concacaf Development Manager for the Caribbean Andre Waugh said the NextPlay Cup fits into Concacaf's broader philosophy of providing access to the game across the board.
" NextPlay is about providing access to the game. We are talking about the players and officials, the administrators; you name it.
"We are hoping that by providing this top-quality experience for the kids we could get more people to commit to the game in whatever capacity. Look at our young referees, who were utilized throughout the competition, and when you listen to the feedback coming from the coaches and the players, you realize that they have done well, so much so that one of them (17-year-old Tuishane Edwards) was given the final to officiate which speaks to the confidence," Waugh said.
Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Affairs Communications for Scotiabank Caribbean, Yanique Forbes Patrick, who was wowed by the pulsating atmosphere, notes that NextPlay has quickly gained pride of place in Scotiabank's extensive portfolio in sports development.
"I love it, and I am very proud that we chose to partner with Concacaf with NextPlay Cup because we are always going to be involved with sports at a developmental level and this is something we are firmly in.
"We have a broader vision for football as we have Gold Cup sponsorship, Champions League, and this competition (NextPlay Cup) ties into it greatly, and we are thankful for Concacaf and the JFF (Jamaica Football Federation) to facilitate the competition," she said.
Elton Johnson, who represented Jamaica's Minister of Education Ruel Reid at Saturday's closing event, said: "I want to congratulate Concacaf and Scotiabank for involving us in this great tournament, and we are already looking forward to next year... today we saw a lot of talent on display, which we hope will develop into future stars."
JFF General Secretary Dalton Wint says the NextPlay Cup has apparently made its mark on the Jamaican football landscape, and the children in particular.
“NextPlay, no doubt, has impacted the sport in Jamaica and we are there for the long run... you noticed that youngsters had been trained as referees and that is important; the kids are also learning that winning isn't all, and they have to learn also to lose graciously, and of course they are learning about good manners and life skills that will help them down the road," he stated.
Other activations of the competition have been concluded with Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas are crowning their champions. Barbados will have its final day of competition next Saturday, December 15.
NextPlay Cup, part of a new grassroots development program by Concacaf and Scotiabank, was contested by football-loving children — boys and girls aged 10-11 years old playing on the same team — from the Primary school systems in Jamaica, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados.
With football as the pathway, the NextPlay program seeks to expose both sexes to football academia and to assist the youngsters, importantly, in becoming valuable citizens armed with vital life skills.