Monday, December 1, 2008

Help JA: support Ja Netball Assn

The impeccable Sunshine Girls with Coach Connie Francis (left), Vice Captain Nadine Bryan (centre), Team Doctor, Prem Singh (front) and JNA President Marva Bernard (right).

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Call it columnist’s crossroads: so many burning topics to choose from – terrorism in Mumbai and heated local issues. So there I was, torn between a planned piece on Marva Bernard’s passion for the Jamaica Netball Association (JNA), the week’s headlines and the myriad topics on Prime Minister Golding’s ‘Jamaica House Live’ call-in programme.

We heard the PM commiserating with President-elect Obama over the tattered US economy, but I felt even sorrier for him as I listened to the range of concerns raised by callers. After nearly one continuous year of rain, his Government has $12 billion worth of damage to our roads and bridges, while losing US$35 million in October in the alumina trade, resulting from what he felt was a poor deal negotiated by the previous government with Alcoa Minerals.

A mother of three children by three different fathers called in to say she was about to be turned out of her house by her landlord as only one of the fathers was helping. Another mother with two children and no father in sight was now jobless. One was a dressmaker and the other a practical nurse. A sympathetic PM Golding promised them assistance, obviously moved by their plight.

Those calls made up my mind. We have to promote any effort that builds self-esteem and self reliance in our people – if only these distressed ladies had been beneficiaries of the JNA’s comprehensive programmes. Our Sunshine girls and players in the four sponsored leagues operated by the 49-year-old association, are examples of what every Jamaican girl can achieve with the right support.

“We have a holistic programme that focuses on the total person,” explains JNA President Marva. “Each of our four national squads has two managers assigned that act as mother, friend, teacher, nurse you name it. We teach them how to speak, to dress, (no chewing gum in their uniforms) we inculcate values that we are not sure are taught at home. Some of us hug them each time we meet … I don't shake young people’s hands. I give them lots of love and hugs.”

This nurturing of mind, body and spirit has paid off: “Almost all of my Sunshine girls are either at university, finishing high school in sixth form or graduates of a college. We even have a professional netball player.”

Marva is referring to 20-year-old Romelda Aiken, the First Sunshine Girl to be offered a lucrative contract to play professional netball in the inaugural ANZ pro netball Championships played between eight teams from Australia and New Zealand. She was voted the MVP of the series by the eight coaches in the competition. She is 6 ft 4'' and will be returning to Australia in March 2009 to play for her franchise The Queensland Firebirds. Who knew that this Jamaican girl, idolized by the Aussies, is one of the top goal shooters in the world?

Marva Bernard, though grateful to her existing sponsors for their support, continues to struggle to stay abreast of expenses. “The top teams come here at their own expense to practise with the agile Sunshine Girls,” she remarks. “But we still have to pick up the huge costs for the use of the National Indoor Sports Centre.” Marva, who is Finance Director of Finance at JIS, is the first Jamaican to be named Finance Director to the International Body (IFNA) in 1999. She is grateful for the unstinting support of the JNA Council, Secretariat, volunteers and friends.

As I thought of Romelda and her legendary netball predecessors, our track queens, Veronica, Melaine, Shelley-Ann, Grace, Deon, Juliet, Bridgette and Merlene, I realised that the sponsorship and adulation we shower on our male athletes are not equally enjoyed by our women. The glass ceiling may have been cracked, but not yet shattered in the world of sport, business and politics.

Indeed, during the recent US presidential election, I received a report from their local Embassy headlined ‘Parties Recruit More Women to Vote Than to Run’ by Lea Terhune at The JNA could pick up a few pointers from the US women’s political action committees (PACs). Terhune quotes Barbara Palmer, from American University’s Women in Politics Institute: “For the past few election cycles, if you do the math, female congressional candidates, at least, actually raise more money, on average, than their male counterparts, so we have definitely closed the gender gap there. And that is due to the activism of women PACs.”

I am recording here some of the heroic struggles of our Sunshine Girls as I appeal to existing sponsors to increase their contribution, and encourage others, especially those with women in charge, to join them. Consider 18-year-old Malysha Kelly who attends high school in Ewarton. “After school she takes a robot taxi to Spanish Town,” says Marva, “ then one from there to Half-Way-Tree, then one to Cross Roads and then one to the Stadium. And she does this three times per week for training! Of course we pick up the cost but if that is not dedication then what is?”

Marva describes the unthinkable sacrifice of former captain Elaine Davis, 2007 winner of the Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence in Sport, who has played in four championships through the pain of several knee surgeries to bring glory to Jamaica.

Sunshine Girls captain Simone Forbes is the winner of the first Professor Kenneth Hall scholarship at the Mona School of Business. Hailing from August Town, Simone got a volleyball scholarship to Mercy College in New York and returned home to serve her country through sport. “She was also one of the 2005 winners of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Sport,” says Marva. “Simone gave up one semester of her Masters programme to prepare for our participation in the World Netball Championship in New Zealand last year November.”

“I am proud of all my girls and maybe that's why I don't have children as God has blessed me with them,” says Marva, to whom Coach Connie Francis dedicated the team’s hard fought Bronze Medal in last year’s World Championships held in New Zealand.

Despite their quest for funding, the JNA continues to bring us fame, and to produce generations of patriots who serve their country with distinction. People have been telling Marva that she may not achieve her sponsorship goals if she does not get a man on board to influence the right people. Let’s prove them wrong.,

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