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Big up road tennis

Andi Thornhill

Big up road tennis

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I like the course the road tennis revolution is taking.
I think that, finally, we have national acceptance of something that is Barbadian, and it is a brand we can be very proud of.
We are a people with a psyche notorious for accepting things foreign while relegating ours to the back-burner.
Road tennis has been through a tortuous process – only, from what I can see, because it was conceived and delivered from the womb of various communities that were given a negative stigma.
I first experienced the sport as a youngster in communities like Deacons and Bush Hall and later Thomas Gap in Westbury Road.
Not long after, there were established road tennis constituencies in Bayville, Vauxhall and St George.
I got more involved from the sidelines when I became a sports journalist and always made myself available to cover events in the proverbial nooks and crannies of the island.
Those experiences then and now capture the essence of village life and a true sense of community when you analyse the level of support a player gets from his “homies” from start to finish.
The camaraderie among opposing fans is exceptional even though the court action can be very competitive and emotional at times.
In essence, road tennis is a family sport that people from any background can play. If there are boundaries, they are only artificially created by some who have been fed false information and others who self-righteously believe it would affect their so-called social standing if they are seen congregating in certain districts.
In the meantime, they deprive themselves of being part of a theatre where the best actors bring exceptional craft and creativity that can be held up to scrutiny anywhere in the world.
Word of their excellence, from what I can see, has started to break down some of the social barriers in Barbados.
Lest we forget, it was these barriers that gave birth to road tennis. The oral historians say that back in the day working class lads weren’t allowed or couldn’t afford to play what was then referred to as lawn tennis so they had to find an alternate route, which was branded road tennis or paddle tennis.
Nowadays, it seems to be the fastest growing participatory sport in Barbados and you can find a court in virtually every community and even workplaces to play it competitively or recreationally.
The recent Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation initiative to revive a tournament bearing its name should be commended because the corporation played its part in the 1970s when most establishments still frowned on sponsoring road tennis competitions.
One of the reasons for this is that it wasn’t so much about a grab for power but the laying of diverse ideas about how to move the sport forward. So, fences were quickly mended because there was still that community-based brotherhood which was never created through expedient or mercenary intentions.
One of the main pillars on which road tennis has gained strength and momentum is that individuals have not been sitting back and waiting on the recognized association to stage the tournaments.
President of the Professional Road Tennis Association, Dale Clarke, was the first who, to the best of my knowledge, gave players monetary and other tangible incentives.
His Racquets On Fire concept was supported by a national institution at the time, the Barbados National Bank, which had the foresight or the politically correct business sense to bank on it as well.
We now have the Monarchs Of The Court competition, which offers unprecedented cash amounts – $10 000 as a first prize.
However, I think the masterstroke was played by Sports Minister Stephen Lashley, who by putting the state’s official stamp on the sport, has given it an improved national image and greater credibility, which equate to widespread acceptance.
Now seems to be the right time to make our indigenous sport a global commodity, including branding, merchandising and manufacturing of road tennis equipment.
Racquets are manufactured locally, but we can give the world a guided tour into our market, into our industry and create a million-dollar product.
Naturally, we need to secure the patent so that none of the world’s leading industrial giants will be able to exploit any legal loopholes to their own benefit while those with the intellectual vision are left with the crumbs from the table or maybe nothing at all.
I think we also need to restart the World Championship, showcased only in 2002 and 2003. We can invite the foreign interests to whom we introduced the game to compete against the best of our titans like the evergreen Julian “Michael Jackson” White, Anthony “Ears” Mitchell, the returning master Antonio Daniel and the heir apparent Mark “Venom” Griffith.
All of the above will be a fitting tribute to the lineage of legends like Deighton “Pa” Roach, Ormond Hoyte, the late Anthony “Tiny” Jordan, Anthony “Limp” Richardson, Edward “Dabo” Carrington and Sylvan “Lamma” Barnett, to mention a few.
Let the revolution continue for the benefit of player and country.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning sports journalist.