To say the least. In 1981, in the final leg of the sprint medley relay, the anchor runners from KC and archrival Calabar College, coached by McKenley, collided. Both fell. "Our hurdler went after the Calabar boy," says Thompson. "The loyalties were high. The fans got on the track. There were fisticuffs." The melee was such that the Inter-Secondary Schools' Sport Association called off the rest of the meet and banned both Calabar and Kingston College from the 1982 championships. "They thought the rivalry was too strong," says Thompson, who disagrees. "The loyalty to the school has to be kept intense. Talent, style, grace are important, but the will to win, that pride, is vital."
He calls in a tall boy who wears a purple pin over his breast pocket that says PREFECT. This is Lennox Graham, a 53.2 intermediate hurdler. "What does it mean to run for KC?" asks Thompson.
For a moment Graham seems taken aback, as if asked the meaning of finding a five-pound gold nugget on the beach. "The reputation—being a KC boy—inspires us, keeps us going," he says. "Once I heard a friend say, 'You're nervous? But how can you be? You go to KC.' "
Thompson gives the visitor a brief tour of the college. "What do you think of our track?" he asks, pointing to an area the visitor had believed to be a sandy, rocky playground. Judging by appearance, the school seems able to hold about 500 students. Enrollment is 2,300. "But we have another campus for the younger ones, and we double-shift," says Thompson. There's an Anglican chapel on the grounds and the husk of a building left over from times of slavery. "Now they are raising walls around us for security," says Thompson. "There is so much theft. It all started with political unrest during the Manley days, but don't remember us for that. Remember the strength of loyalty men have for the school." He presses an index finger against his visitor's chest. When he draws it away, a little blue-and-white sticker remains. It reads K.C.—FORTIS CADERE CEDERE NON POTEST. "Our motto," says Thompson. "The brave may fall, but they never yield."
On the phone, the secretary for the First Life Insurance Company, Knutsford Branch, has a throaty lilt. "Kindly hold me, please," she breathes, a disconcerting statement until it penetrates that one has been put on hold. When she returns she confirms an appointment with the branch manager, Herb McKenley, O.D. (Order of Distinction).
McKenley is now a distinguished 60 (though women acquaintances insist that the child in him is apparent), and the president of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association. He still coaches at his old school, Calabar, and is active in civic affairs. A try at a talk in his large, gold-curtained office is defeated by interruptions from the phone. To enjoy the energetic recounting of McKenley lore, one must escort him to a fine Kingston restaurant such as the Terra Nova, which on this evening is lit exclusively by candles. "It's romance by necessity," says McKenley. "The power is off in this whole district."
McKenley was born in Clarendon, about 45 miles to the west, and came to Kingston when he was 10. "I went to Calabar and started running some because of the interest shown in me by the late Dr. Charles B. Phillips," he says. "My father was a doctor, too, but he thought sport was a waste of time, that I'd mix with the wrong type of people. My first hero was Arthur Wint. He was two years older. He was tall and had that long stride. I never had a clear purpose until 1938, when I was 16. Arthur had made the team for the Central American Games in Panama, and he came by the school before he left. He was wearing his team uniform. It was an all-white suit, white shoes, a maroon tie and a panama hat with a maroon band." McKenley still shakes his head at the glory of it. "I looked at that, and I...I was overtaken. I thought, 'I must wear one of those.' "
Before the chance could arise, the war intervened. "Arthur joined the RAF. My father wanted me to go to England as well, but the German U-boats seemed to me to be making that a risky proposition. I said, 'Let's wait a while.' Then the scholarship offer came."
McKenley believes he was the first Jamaican athlete to take the avenue to U.S. colleges. A local priest who had followed his career arranged for a grant at Boston College. McKenley began there in 1942. "I transferred to Illinois in 1945, out of good feeling for Coach Leo Johnson."
A large brown bat has flown into the Terra Nova dining room, seemingly from the bar, and silently circles the room, hunting for the way out. None of the well-dressed diners pay any mind.