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SSFL 2022: Rivers of tears? Carapichaima face relegation threat over eligibility protest

The Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) is on a knife’s edge again, due to another protest over the eligibility of a student athlete.

On this occasion, the target is Carapichaima East Secondary goalkeeper Nicholai Rivers, who is now the subject of a protest by three Premier Division schools.

Carapichaima East Secondary goalkeeper Nicholas Rivers throws out the ball during SSFL Premier Division action against Presentation (San F’do) in Couva on 17 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

Rivers, a lower sixth form student at Carapichaima East, was a school hero on Monday 21 November when he helped “Caps” to a 7-6 penalty shootout win over Chaguanas North Secondary at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. It was their ninth Central Intercol title.

Within 48 hours of the final whistle, though, Rivers was at the centre of a protest from Chaguanas North and then the St Augustine and Pleasantville Secondary schools regarding whether he should have been on the field at all.

Rivers sat the SEA exam in 2015 and passed for Chaguanas North, where he attended school up until the 2020/21 academic year. He was a lower sixth form student in 2020/21 and, according to correspondence from Chaguanas, he was marked absent for all of his end-of-year exams.

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Rivers did not attend school at all in the 2021/22 academic year. However, in September 2022, he popped up on the roster of Carapichaima East’s Premier Division team. Teacher Maria Busby-Montenegro confirmed that Rivers is a lower sixth form student at his current school.

SSFL regulations require students to have “one ‘A’ Level pass […] for a form six transfer repeat”. Rivers has none.

Carapichaima East goalkeeper Nicholai Rivers (on the ground) tries to keep the ball away from his goal while St Benedict’s College players (from left) Ephraim Brown, Jeremiah Niles and Jaden Grant lie in wait during SSFL Premier Division action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 17 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

“We are questioning his eligibility to play in the league,” said Pleasantville teacher Alison Quashie-Boucher, who explained that her school was only made aware of Rivers’ situation “a few days ago”.

However, Busby-Montenegro had a different take on the situation.

“He is a legitimate student of Caps,” she told Wired868. “[…] He is a new student because he was out of the school system for a year.”

Does Rivers’ year outside of the school system erase the fact that he started lower six at Chaguanas North in September 2020? Should the fact that he did not finish lower six at his previous school make any difference, since he began the academic year there?

The ramifications of the ruling will be significant.

Carapichaima East Secondary goalkeeper Nicholai Rivers tips a shot overbar during SSFL Premier Division action against Presentation (San F’do) in Couva on 17 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

First, Carapichaima fielded Rivers in their Central Intercol semifinal win over Miracle Ministries Pentecostal High School and final win over Chaguanas North.

If the SSFL rules against Carapichaima’s use of Rivers, Chaguanas North are expected to be awarded the Central Intercol title and will face either Presentation College (San Fernando) or St Benedict’s College in the National Intercol quarterfinals on Monday afternoon.

The fact that no protest came from Miracle Ministries would probably be a relief to the SSFL, as it would be a logistical nightmare to attempt to return to the zonal semifinal stage at this point.

Carapichaima East attacker Josiah Hypolite (left) tries to hold off a Miracle Ministries High defender during their Central Intercol semifinal clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 14 November 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

At Premier Division level, there is likely to be even greater upheaval. Carapichaima East got four points from six games this season—as they managed a 5-2 win over St Augustine Secondary and a 2-2 draw with Pleasantville Secondary. Both opponents have now protested.

At present, St Augustine are bottom of the table with zero points, while Pleasantville and Carapichaima are second from bottom with four points each—although the former school has a superior goal difference.

The bottom team at the end of the season is automatically relegated to the Championship Division while the second from bottom schools in each group have a playoff against each other to scrap for one survival spot.

St Augustine Secondary midfielder Elijah Baptiste tries to initiate an attack for his team during SSFL Premier Division action against Naparima at Gordon Street on 14 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

An unfavourable decision for Carapichaima in the protest room could see them drop to cellar place zero points in Group A while St Augustine and Pleasantville would amass three and six points respectively.

It would mean Pleasantville avoid the playoff. However, farcically, there are still two games left in the 2022 Premier Division season—with Pleasantville still to face Speyside High School while Caps tackle St Anthony’s College.

Caps’ goal difference, if the SSFL’s Disciplinary Committee rules against them, would be -30. St Augustine’s goal difference would swing to -27.

Carapichaima East forward Tyrese David (left) tries to engineer an attack for his team while St Benedict’s College defender Nesean Alexander keeps watch during SSFL Premier Division action in Couva on 17 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

It means that Carapichaima could lose every game so far this season and still retain their Premier Division status, if they manage to defeat the “Westmooring Tigers” by four clear goals on the final day of the season—whenever that is.

Traditionally, the SSFL season is closed every year by the National Intercol final, which is the last fixture on the calendar.

Two controversial postponements of Arima North Secondary’s Big 5 trip to Siparia West Secondary have already created a scenario where the promotion competition could finish after the rest of the school season has been put to bed.

Arima North Secondary attacker Devin Seales celebrates a goal against Miracle Ministries High School during SSFL Big 5 action at the Larry Gomes Stadium on 24 November 2022.
Seales dedicated the goal to his elder sister, who is due to give birth soon.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868)

Yet the SSFL’s Fixtures Committee, which comprises chairman Azaad Khan, Gerald Elliot and Laurence Seepersad, still have not gotten the Premier Division matches and relegation playoff games out of the way.

Had the Premier Division been completed, Rivers would have almost certainly featured in Caps’ entire season—and they would be facing relegation.

As it stands, even if the Disciplinary Committee rules against Carapichaima East, they still have a sliver of a chance.

SSFL president Merere Gonzales (right) and Tiger Tanks CEO Denis Latiff before kickoff of the Tiger Tanks Cup at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 9 September 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

Earlier this month, Manzanilla Secondary were relegated from the East Championship Division after fielding a non-student, Keshawn Diaz, while Malick Secondary were deducted points for failing to register players in time for their first outing against Chaguanas North Secondary.

Carapichaima East narrowly avoided relegation in the 2018 SSFL season too, after a protest was lodged against their registration of seven players.

In the end, Caps were penalised for the improper use of attacker Theophilus Bourne and goalkeepers Aaron Best and Andre St Clair—who all represented the school in a 2-0 win over Fatima College, despite only being transferred to the school on that same day.

Carapichaima East attacker Theophilus Bourne (centre) consoles two Chaguanas North opponents during the Central Zone Intercol final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 20 November 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/ Wired868)

At the time, Seepersad was simultaneously a Carapichaima East staff member, chair of the SSFL Credentials Committee and assistant secretary operations for the schools body. He has since relinquished the first position.

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