Tony Becca - FROM THE BOUNDARY
AFTER YEARS of marking time, the Jamaica Table Tennis Association has awoken from what can be described as a deep sleep, it has come alive, it has started to do some work, and who's to tell, it may not be long before Jamaica's table tennis is back to where it was for many, many years the best by far in the region.
Once the envy of the Caribbean, Jamaica, the country that produced masters like Fuarnado Roberts, Glen Mitchell and Leo Davis, Dave Foster and Maurice Foster, Orville Haslam and Stephen Hylton, Joy Foster, Monica DeSouza and Anita Belnavis, the country that once, certainly between 1958 and 1968, ruled supreme and almost unchallenged, has struggled in recent years so much so that in the past few years it has failed to even challenge for titles while finishing among the also rans.
To Jamaicans who experienced and remember the days of glory, those who, for example, can recall that memorable night in 1967 when, in the last game of the championship match, Davis demolished Winston 'Reds' Mulligan of Trinidad and then, with the applause ringing around the arena, raced into the arms of Norman Manley, former Premier but then leader of the Opposition, the present state of the game is embarrassing and any move to breathe new life into it and to raise the standard of play is encouraging.
Based on the number of people playing the game and watching it, based on the standard of the players, Jamaica's table tennis is a far cry from the days when it was among the top four in terms of participation and spectator support, from the days when Roberts, Mitchell and Davis, Dave Foster and Haslam, Joy Foster and DeSouza wooed the fans with their skill, something needed to be done about it, and thank God, thanks to vice president Peter Moo Young and the Council members, something is now being done about it.
In a move to spread the game, the JTTA plans to stage regular exhibitions by its senior players and its young players in plazas around the city, so far there have been two one at Sovereign Centre and one at Boulevard Supercentre; in a move to attract youngsters to the game, it plans to send a team of juniors to the US Open in July and regularly after that; and in a move to improve the standard of play.
Also, in a bid to get at least one player qualified for the Olympic Games in Greece, it has sent Nigel Webb, one of the country's top players, to China, to the land of table tennis, for coaching.
That is great, and it is great for three reasons. The game needs to be re-introduced to the people, when one realises the opportunities now available to youngsters in other sports, the game's young players need the attraction and the motivation of travel plus the opportunity to test their skills against foreign opposition, and like Stephen Hylton Sweden, Garfield Jones China, Colin McNeish England, and Michael Hyatt China, today's players need some help if they are to become good players, and in the case of Webb and a few others, if they are to become strong competitors.
For different reasons, therefore, all three moves are good moves.
Apart from one's own commitment and dedication, however, the best way to become good, really good, is to be coached by the best, to be exposed to the right environment, to match skills with the best over a period of time, because of that, probably the best of the three moves is sending Webb to China, and for that, hats off to Moo Young and China through its embassy in Jamaica.
After years of sleeping, the JTTA is waking up, because of that, table tennis is looking up and, if things go according to plan, there is even more to come.
The next move, according to the passionate, energetic Moo Young, is to get a Chinese coach in Jamaica, and although it was not as good as during the first decade of the regional championship, remembering the success of the national team during the 1970s and the 1980s when Jamaicans were trained and coached by two Chinese, that would be really great for Jamaica's table tennis.