FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — On the night, many of the speeches were poignant and seemingly hit the spot.
Each speaker delivered their bit with a passion and commitment, that if ever successfully transplanted to the field of play, would undoubtedly propel women's football in Jamaica to unprecedented levels. A groundswell of support in achieving that dream has already started here.
In the first of its kind, an awareness conference for the sake of Jamaica's women's football programme -- and the Reggae Girlz in particular -- surprisingly brought together a wide cross section of the USA Jamaican diaspora, Jamaican government officials and football constituents with one common goal.
Minister with the Responsibility for Sport Natalie Neita-Headley, in her usually passionate and articulate style, said women's football, which has been haemorrhaging from a lack of funds for years, needed a sustained lifeline, was full of praise for those who conceptualised the newly formed Jamaica High School Alumni Sporting Network (JHSASN) who has taken up the cause of the Reggae Girlz.
"I think there have been tremendous attempts to get the diaspora involved in the development of sports in partnerships with our (sports) associations and the Government, so when this invitation was sent to me I was most elated, especially that it wasn't one of those areas that was already heavily saturated because I am always looking for support in other non-traditional areas too," said Neita-Headley at the Sheraton Suites Hotel in Plantation here on Friday night.
She said she was particular inspired by the board-based commitment of support for night-time conference, which included diaspora and city leaders and representative of the business sector.
"When I saw the level of support from the mayor from the various cities in South Florida, I said 'listen, if they are willing to come on board', then we as a government should also be willing to do so as well," noted Neita-Headley, who addressed the gathering.
"I believe it was a successful evening as it was an awareness conference... I believe that the kind of media that has covered it, says a lot of the importance of it, but now we need to take the next step to get the sponsors on board, have more collaboration for the sake of women's football," she added.
The Jamaican minister, who bears the cross of the sport portfolio, said the time was ripe for Jamaica's women football to stake their rightful place in the global game, having exhibited unparalleled skill levels over the years but have always been held back by under preparedness and limited exposure resulting from a lack of funding.
"We want Broward County to be the Penn Relays of Jamaica's women's football... it's time for women's football to get some attention, and soon the Girlz will be ready for the world, and I hope when that time comes, the world will be ready for the Girlz," Neita-Headley said to rousing applause.
The individual who is championing the Reggae Girlz cause is the JHSSAN president, Lavern Deer, and was inspired to spearhead this charge in the main by her unbridled desire to give back to her country of birth.
"I was born in Jamaica in a place called Jones Town, but I wasn't raised there as I was fortunate to leave there and get a better life here (USA), and having gone back to Jamaica and see the possible path that I could be on to where I am today, and based on my work in education and abilities, I decided to help and just couldn't step away. I have always volunteered and I have always been giving back and that's what has inspired me to do this as it's a cause I believe in, and I am not going to stop until I see it through," she told the Jamaica Observer, unflinching and in a tone that underscored a no-nonsense woman on a mission.
"I am extremely satisfied (with the turnout at conference), when you look that the minister of sports, Captain (Horace) Burrell, Elaine Walker-Brown, and Vin Blaine came up from Jamaica, so when you can bring the right people to the table to carry the torch, that's what really counts.
Deer said one of the immediate goals to assist the Girlz with international training camps, some of which are expected to be hosted in South Florida after city officials, including the mayors of three -- Lauderdale Lakes, Miramar and Lauder Hill --have given their commitment to play their part in the process. "The exposure that they need is going to be my primary focus for now, and after that we will seek to find the ways to work with the development programmes in helping young girls in school. But for the Reggae Girlz right, I want to see a campaign launch and I am going to be working towards that," she noted.
October has been declared Reggae Girlz Month by the municipalities of Broward County.
Meanwhile, co-ordinator of women's football in Jamaica and head coach of the existing Under-17 and Under-20 Vin Blaine was beside himself with delight at Friday night's activities and outpouring of support.
"I am very encouraged as this is what I have been asking for a very long time... based on what I saw here tonight (Friday) and the kind of support, I see a bright future ahead for women's football. Our perennial problem has always been a lack of training camps, but with a foundation like this now, we can look to get some support," said Blaine, who doubles as coach of National Premier League leaders Harbour View FC.
Jamaica Football Federation boss, Burrell, said the quality of the turnout demonstrated in a profound way the commitment to the women's game. "I am very encouraged because this initiative has taken on awesome proportions and it shows also the level of interest being invested by the diaspora here.
"I think always it was a very good turnout from people from the business sector, people from government and people from the community, and they have come together with one intention and that is to assist our young ladies to getting financial and other administrative support they need to enhance their football programme," he added.
Others in attendance were Under-20 team member USA-born Marlo Sweatman, Jamaica Consul General Sandra Grant-Griffith, noted sportscaster Ed Barnes and Irie FM's Nicholas Evans, a vigorous advocate for the Girlz in his spare time.
JHSSAN has formed a company -- Jamaica International Female Football Development Inc -- which will undertake in part the management of the Reggae Girlz' fund-raising and well-being efforts.
According to Deer, its vision is to "support the development of the Reggae Girlz football programme through aggressive outreach, strategic collaboration among municipal, business & NGO stakeholders and international partnerships".