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Marva Bernard - a life dedicated to excellence

Published:Wednesday | January 13, 2016 | 4:01 AM
Marva Bernard

Marva Bernard, OD, was the chief driving force behind local netball from the moment she became Jamaica Netball Association (JNA) president in 2005 until she left the post last year after nine years.

In her time, the public image of the island's leading women's team sport rose to new heights and this was not by chance. Her administration set out, from the very beginning, to make this happen.

"One of the things we set about doing was to not make netball the best-kept secret in the land anymore, because if you don't advertise, it's like winking at a girl in the dark. So we set about promoting the sport. We set about building an infrastructure," she said earlier this week.

Bernard, however, refuses to take a great deal of personal credit for the new levels the sport has reached. Her time as netball's top administrator was, she says, just one leg of a relay race.

"I took the baton from Sharon Donaldson and my aim then was to build on what was left. I got a fantastic head start from all those presidents who had served before me, everyone of them.

"I sat around the table with Molly Rhone and Sharon, who I served under, and saw the work that they did and they gave me an unbelievable head start. I was passed a baton way ahead of the pack of many other sporting associations. I did not just take this association from nothing.

"I got something that was truly worked on as I was part of the association for 12 years. I knew the struggles, I knew the challenges and knew the plans the previous presidents had that just did not get done in their tenure. I made mental note of it, so when it became my time I set about to do those things."


Acquiring netball house


She underlined the fact that Netball House, one of the major accomplishments during her administration, was not all her work.

"We had always wanted a house for the ladies. At the end of 2003 after the World Netball Championships were held here, we got some money and I remember Sharon, Molly and myself going to look for somewhere to purchase, or to beg, but we could not find any. So the idea for the house, which came under my tenure, was not something that I thought about in 2012; and the idea of incorporating Netball Jamaica did not start with me, but I was a part of the administration under Molly and Sharon that these ideas were mooted. We had a list of wants and ticking them off under my leadership, with the support of my board, was what made it so wonderful."

Bernard has been around netball for a very long time - more than 40 years. She started as a player at Air Jamaica in the early 1970s.

"I used to play, but I could not help them to win," Bernard recalls about her early days at Air Jamaica, which she joined in 1970

She admits that as time went on, better players were employed and she was no longer needed on the court. However, the netball fraternity at Air Jamaica was a close-knit one and she remained with the team as its manager. It was a post she held for 21 years until she left Air Jamaica in 1994.

Earlier in 1993, close friend Rhone had asked Bernard, a trained accountant, to be her treasurer when she decided to run for the presidency of the JNA in 1993. Bernard, who was then treasurer of the Business House Netball Association, was forced, by the sheer volume of work at the JNA, to cut her ties with the business house body.


Grew as administrator


Under the presidency of Rhone, the current head for the International Netball Federation, Bernard grew as an administrator. In addition to her job as treasurer, she managed several youth and senior teams to international tournaments, including the World Netball Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Despite her past experience as a top administrator, Bernard did much soul-searching before she decided to take the reins at the JNA in 2005 as, according to her, it is an enormous job.

"A number of persons asked me to do it, but I did not think I could do it. It took me one year ... did a lot of soul-searching before I came to the conclusion that this is what I really wanted to do. I had to find out first if I was mentally ready ... because if I tell you I am going to do something, I am going to give it my all. I am not a quitter, so I had to be sure within my mind that I would want to do this. I spoke with my family and friends and we said go for it."

Among her greatest achievements, Bernard says, was being able to bring to reality the visions of people who were ahead of her. These include getting Netball House, and incorporating the company now known as Netball Jamaica. Then, under her administration, Jamaica won bronze medals at the 2009 and 2013 World Youth Netball Championships.

Perhaps one of her biggest disappointments was the failure of the Sunshine Girls to win the title at last year's World Netball Championships. A lot of planning had gone into preparing the Girls for the tournament and hopes were very high.

"We went into the World Cup to win and that would have been my last hurrah," said Bernard. "That was one of the biggest disappointments for me."

For now, Bernard is taking a break from netball as "the new president (Dr Paula Daley-Morris) must be allowed to manage".

Looking forward, Bernard, who holds an Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer Class for service in the field of sport and community, would like to see netball getting stronger and stronger, and an immediate area of focus could be the parish associations.

Bernard's other major awards include the Carreras Sports Foundation award for outstanding service in the field of netball in 2000; the RJR Sports Awards Certificate of Merit for outstanding contribution and leadership in netball in 2010; and the International Netball Federation Service Award in 2013.

"For netball to grow, we have got to strengthen the parish associations," she says.

Bernard, who is a certified public accountant and holds Master of Science (Accounting) and Bachelor of Science (Accounting and Economics) degrees from the University of the West Indies, also wants more people to serve and to seek leadership positions in netball

"I find that there is a dearth of people wanting to lead. Everybody wants to play and very few people want to lead," she said.