Tony Becca | Turning back the TT clock
Ask anybody, anyone in their senior years, when were the golden days of table tennis in Jamaica, and without batting an eyelid, he or she will answer, the 1950s through to the 1980s.
Those were the days of clubs like Cambridge, YMCA, Rainbow, Silver Slipper, Atomic Aces, Wilfost Aces, T'View, Hylton's, JCYA, and Oliver's Decorating. They were also the days of the many small clubs and church halls like Lyndhurst Methodist Church and St Matthews Anglican Church, and the York Park Fire Station, where the game used to be played regularly and religiously.
Those were the days when players like Willie Estwick, Bunny McLean and Danny O'Connor, Fuarnado Roberts, Glen Mitchell, Leo Davis, Jeff Lewis, Jasper Adams, Cupidon Murray, Sammy Wright, Maurice Foster, Dave Foster, Joy Foster, Monica DeSouza, Ronnie Wills, Orville Haslam, Anita Belnavis, Ingrid Mangatal, Sandra Riettie, Roberto Byles, Stephen Hylton, Richard Stephenson and Michael Tenn used to wield their racquets.
Those were the days when boys used to walk around with racquets in the back pockets and when it was five points to a set of serves, 21 points for a game, and three or five games for a match, and during those games, whenever the score reached anywhere from 15-15, or 16-16, or 17-17, or 18-18, or 19-19, it was time for "war".
In Jamaica, and in the Caribbean also, players like Roberts, Davis, Mitchell, Maurice Foster, Dave Foster, Haslam, Hylton, Joy Foster, DeSouza, and Belnavis were kings and queens, and in the Caribbean, Jamaica was tops for many, many years; many times in long, unbroken sequences.
And, especially in the men's section, Jamaica's dominance was usually comfortable, as easy as, in those days of Swaything Cup, of 9-0 scorelines for almost all contenders.
Those were the days also when Roberts once defeated former world champion Richard Bergman in a one-game 'friendly', and later on, those were the days of a trip by the national team to China, those were the days of a visit of a team from faraway China, of the Lovebird Table Tennis Tournament, which, year after year, brought many international stars, including a world champion like Stellan Bengtsson, to play here, and those were the days when the "nationals" were played year after year at the National Arena for four days each time, and before good crowds.
Those were also the days of monthly tournaments; tournaments like the Keith Alberga Tournament and the Memorial tournament for seniors, the Scotiabank and the Jamaica National tournaments for juniors of three age groups, club tournaments for divisions one, two, and three, and, for a short time, a women's league, and also including, for a time, the Super League Tournament, which was designed for men, women, and boys.
There was also a business house tournament, for men and women played once per week, on every Thursday evening.
Those were the days when DeSouza lost to the world champion Hu Yu Lan in the Round of 16 at the Asian African Latin American Friendship Tournament in China in 1973, and when Haslam defeated Trevor Taylor, the Commonwealth champion from England, during the 'Lovebird' of 1975.
Table tennis was marked by four healthy periods in those days - the days of Roberts, the Fosters and company; Haslam, DeSouza and company, Stephenson, Tenn, Belnavis and company; and the days of Byles, Coin McNeish, Hylton, David Marshalleck, Managtal, Riettie and company.
There were also the days of the promising juniors like Terrence Matthews, Ludlow Bailey, Michael Hyatt, Julie Armstrong, Sharon Becca, and Sophia Virgo.
Those were the days up to the late 1980s, however. Since then, since the 1990s or so, table tennis, but for one or two occasions, and but for the one or two players like national champions Simon Tomlinson and Yvonne Foster, table tennis in Jamaica has returned almost to the days of "ping pong".
Fortunately, however, there is now a flicker of hope of a national resurrection.
Once again, Jamaica has been playing the game around the country. It has procured the services of a qualified coach from a recognised table tennis country, and a country with a rich history.
The hope is that Satoshi Takashima, the recently arrived Japanese coach and former Japanese national player, will contribute to Jamaica's new approach towards building a love for the game and its climb, not only back to the days of old, but beyond, probably way beyond its previous accomplishments.
Table tennis was once a big sport in this country, and it can be big again, if not as big, despite its disadvantage in the money stakes.
President Godfrey Lothian is obviously not a very popular man in the fraternity, but he is attempting to spread the sport all over the country once again. He has got a coach who is now in place, he is moving the sport, and whether any one likes him, whether he played the game, he is now running the sport, and from most accounts, he is now doing well.
Table tennis needed a breath of fresh air. It needed a man like Baz Freckleton despite his few weaknesses, other men like Keith Alberga, Roy Hylton, and Ken McLachlan, men who devoted their time to it, and it needed it a long time ago.
It has now got some of what it wanted, it has now got a working president instead of a playing president and it has now got what it needed, a Japanese who is supposed to know the game inside and outside and one who can guide the development of Jamaica's players.
Jamaica may not, for now, produce world champions like Japan's Ogimura, Tanaka, Hasegawa, and Itoh, Matsuzaki, Fukatsu, Morisawa, and Kowada, or rise to be world champions, but with a little luck, Jamaica may once again produce some players like Haslam and Roberts, Joy Foster and DeSouza, or even better, and rise to the top of Caribbean table tennis.