Girls missing out on tennis opportunities
Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
The Hi-Pro All-Jamaica Tennis Tournament serves off today at the Liguanea Club in New Kingston signalling the dawn of a new era for the tournament that had been dormant for the past two decades.
On the face of it, the All-Jamaica tourney might have returned at just about the right time because, with only a reported 13 female contestants entered this year, it could well be what has been so desperately needed to get more girls playing the game at the senior level.
First prize for the winner of the women's title is a paltry $40,000. Tennis Jamaica vice-president and tournament chairman, Aswad Morgan, explained at the launch of the tournament on Tuesday that the poor turnout of female players is largely responsible for that. It is difficult to raise sponsorship money for better purses for the women because the female players have not been showing up for tournaments. By comparison, there are more than 40 male contestants and the men's champion will collect $150,000.
The administration of Tennis Jamaica has expressed concern.
"For the longest while, we have been having problems with our female players, and this is not a Jamaican problem, it's regional. And hence, we have been putting on special events trying to encourage them, trying to create some new incentive for them to come out. We are hoping now that, with the return of the All-Jamaica, that in itself will be an incentive for them to come out," said tournament director Llockett McGregor, who was speaking following the launch of the tournament on Tuesday. At the time, only nine or 10 females had registered for the competition.
GAP AT SENIOR FEMALE LEVEL
The situation is not lost on president of Tennis Jamaica, John Bailey.
"We have recognised that there is a shortage of top women players. There are quite a few juniors coming up nicely, and so, in a matter of time, you will see the transition. But at the senior level, there is definitely a gap," he said.
Bailey, however, was optimistic that, in time, the situation will change.
"The only way to work on that is to either import Jamaican players from overseas or build our juniors. Of course, the viable option is to build our juniors, so it's going to be a few years," he said.
McGregor believes tennis is currently fighting a losing battle against what he called 'distractions' for the attentions of young females who, for reasons yet to be clearly established, are not picking up the sport.
"It's not like in the past when you had people like Henrietta Harris and Linda Sarnia and other players like that. Now there are lots more distractions, so we, at Tennis Jamaica, have to really get at them and get them involved."
It is particularly concerning given the number of scholarship opportunities available to teenage girls to American universities that are not being taken advantage of.
"What is sad is that there are so many opportunities for scholarships because it's that much less competitive and it's very valuable, you know. If you are a top Jamaican player, you are going to get a scholarship to a US college. So even if it is for that alone. I don't understand it, so we are working and hoping that, in the next three to four years, that will change."
That work has already begun, McGregor said, and there will be no letting up to get more girls coming out for tennis.
"We are working through our school's programme. We are working through our local tournaments in a concerted attempt to get the girls out," he said.