Calabar High and Edwin Allen High schools will certainly retain their respective titles at the 2016 Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships. Well, at least that’s what the experts believe. However, it isn’t that simple. The challengers are plenty, and determination and ambition run deep in the rival ranks, meaning that the defending champions will have to sharpen their swords and lift their shields over the next five days as we brace for another exciting race to the top of high-school athletics. Twenty-one preliminary events are scheduled for today’s opening day of action at the National Stadium, with a number of top athletes getting the chance to make an early impression. EVENTS Among today’s events, the Class One Boys’ long jump, the Girls’ Class Two shot put, the sprint hurdles, Girls’ Class One discus, as well as the 400m preliminaries, will all take focus. Edwin Allen enter this year’s championships at the top end of what appears to be a growing dynasty, having won back-to-back Girls’ titles and three of the last four. Tuned by Michael Dyke and led by captain and top sprinter Shellece Clarke, the girls from Frankfield, Clarendon, boast a well-rounded unit, which threatens to increase the gap between themselves and their rivals beyond the 100 points gulf that underlined their dominance in 2015. That’s bad news for the chasing pack, which, this year, is being headed by the girls from St Jago High, with the ever-improving Hydel High and old warriors Holmwood Technical all showing promise this season. They will, however, have to wait a while longer as based on their form this year, there is little to suggest that anyone will have enough to unseat a well-oiled Edwin Allen machine. Things are expected to be a lot closer among the boys, where four-time defending champions Calabar will be looking to add to their 25 titles. With the excellent Christopher Taylor leading their talented crop of sprinters, and Warren Barrett again taking charge of the throws corps, the Red Hills Road-based Calabar unit seems more than capable of holding off what is expected to be a fierce challenge from old foes Kingston College (KC) and Jamaica College (JC). 4x400m RELAY It’s a battle that will most likely take us into the curtain-closing 4x400m relay Open event, with early projections tipping Calabar to ultimately lift the Mortimer Geddes Trophy, with a 20-odd points victory over KC. So there’s hardly any margin for error. Kingston College – winless since 2009 – have a few Titans of their own, with the likes of quarter-mile record holder Akeem Bloomfield and Class One double sprint gold medal hopeful Jhevaughn Matherson expected to carry major points for the Fortis clan. Jamaica College, who last tasted title success in 2011, have been steady, if not spectacular, throughout the season quietly going about their business at the various development meets. They should make much of the early noise at these championships, with the jumping standout O’Brien Wasome expected to fire a few warning shots in the long jump pit. Whether they have enough to upset the Calabar-KC duopoly will depend a lot on their execution in the events that they are expected to dominate and their ability to steal points from their rivals on a regular basis. Either way, the stage has been set for the 106th staging of what is widely viewed as the best event of its kind, a showpiece of excellence where age group athletics performance is concerned. The first strides will be taken today, and we are bound to get to a glorious end for some and anguish for others, but there are sure to be many memorable stops along the way.