Former Sunshine Girl Nadine Ffrench keeps netball fire burning in Florida
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — The sun has surely not gone down on former Sunshine Girl Nadine Ffrench, who remains a shining example on and off the netball court.
She may no longer be playing in the national Jamaican colours, but she is making her mark in Florida, which incidentally is known as the Sunshine State. Therefore, she could still be considered a Sunshine Girl depending on how one looks at it.
The former national goalkeeper and defender is charting a course in Florida as she is playing her part in promoting the sport in the state, and by extension the country, where netball's alter ego basketball is king.
The 33-year-old Ffrench has an executive position on the Florida Netball Association, where she is also coach of a team made up mainly of Jamaican expatriates.
"I would love to see netball at the standard where it should be (in Florida)... as a past national player I know that there is potential in netball," she told the Jamaica Observer as the chief co-ordinator of the netball tournament of the Jamaica High School Alumni Sports Network (JHSASN) annual sport fiesta, which had its final day at the Lauderhill Sports Complex here yesterday.
Ffrench, the elder sister of another former national player Jodiann, said she missed playing the sport on an organised level and decided she was not going to sit on the sidelines and let her passion burn to embers.
"Just earlier this year I became a player and coach of the Florida Netball Association and I am also the match and tournament organiser... I am trying my best to motivate the players, and we do have past national players living in Florida and they would want to see something happen for netball here so they can get involved.
"I wasn't seeing much happening from a netball perspective, but then I told myself that if I stayed back and do nothing, then nothing will happen, so I decided to get involved," said French, whose other sibling Jade, is a player herself.
All three sisters are in Florida for the JHSASN event.
The new Florida Netball Association, according to the elder Ffrench, has an open door policy and will welcome all nationalities to its player and administrative ranks.
"We are searching for talent everywhere, and people's nationalities don't matter, but the people who are presently playing are Jamaicans, most of whom are past Jamaica national players... also on the executive board, you will find mostly Jamaicans as well, but we don't see our organisation as a Jamaican thing, as we have other Caribbean players, so we are very open to anybody," she said.
The former Queen's High School student, who played college basketball in the USA, says the two-day JHSASN football and netball tournaments have the potential in promoting sport and building the diaspora in the USA.
"I think the high school alumni league is really a good way of bringing sport to the diaspora here... a lot of people don't know that this is happening, and we want them to, because this event can be the best of the best.
"As sports people, we need to come forward to help this event grow. I would love to see this grow beyond Florida, we would love to see people from New York, Atlanta and Jamaican coming to Florida for this event," Ffrench noted.
The former Sunshine Girl, who has a Commonwealth Games bronze medal won back in 2002, said representing her native Jamaica has done wonders for her.
"It was a good experience playing for Jamaica. For one, I travelled a lot and went to countries that I wouldn't pay my money to go, and netball in Jamaica gave me that exposure and experience and I am happy for that," she recalled.
In her national playing days, which ended in 2003 — having started out as a 16-year-old — Ffrench shared that she maintains a good relationship with many of her former teammates.
"We were a wonderful bunch of girls during my time, some of whom I keep in touch with. If I may say, I must mention Sasha-Gay Henry, Roneesh Davis and Georgia Gordon... it was a lot of good experience representing my country," she ended.
Though she has not followed the progress of the sport in Jamaica to the finest of details, the Kingstonian believes that the game ought to be on a path of growth when weighed against a number of factors.
"I am not very updated with the development of netball in Jamaica today, but it must be better than when I played because I suspect they would have more sponsors. Also, I see where they have changed their name from Jamaica Netball Association to Netball Jamaica, so obviously something good must be happening there. It must be more of a business now."