Former Sunshine Girl invests in netball academy
FfRENCH-KENTISH... harboured dream of an academy.

When Jamaican netballers talk about the “Connection”, fans salute them for recalling the remarkable first family of Jamaican netballers known as the “Ffrench Connection”.

The family of netballers thrilled Jamaican fans for two whole decades and, in the process, ensured that the black, green and gold continued to flutter for at least a decade more, beside the flags of giants of other game like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The foundation was so strong that a decade after the family name disappeared from the scoreboards, Jamaica is still ranked fourth among the top teams in the world, and the Ffrench Connection is still regarded with netball reverence.

Big sister Nadine, who played defence, has since moved to the United States, where she went to play basketball. Now retired, she runs her own sportswear shop in Florida, while still promoting her culture and her country.

She was followed by sister, Jodi-Ann Ffrench-Kentish, who played her final game for the “Sunshine Girls” in 2012 and now works at the National Housing Trust, but still harboured the dream of an academy for girls, aged six to 17 years old, who could use the game as a platform to fulfil their aspirations as they tried to do during their time.

Jodi-Ann Ffrench-Kentish holding the ball while representing Jamaica’s Under-21 team, during a two-Test series against South Africa at the National Indoor Centre in 2005.

Youngest sister, Sade Ffrench, the third in line, emerged in the earlier years of the 21st century and although she didn’t make it as big as her older sisters, contributed heavily to the country’s success at youth tournaments, emerging as the Under-16s’ most valuable player, before emigrating.

It’s a remarkable generational record for the trio, but Jodi-Ann, who has a special love for the game, feels that the dream is not yet over, as she presses on with the wish to create an academy for the aspiring young players, which she actually started in April this year.

She noted that this is the first time Jamaica would have established an academy for young aspiring girls, despite being the top ranked developing country still playing the game.

She believes that there is still hope for her definitively ambitious desire to make it a top-class netball academy, focusing on developing young women players from a variety of communities, including the innercity, and giving them an opportunity to become netball stars in their own right.

The academy is currently operating as a non-profit institution. Its original programme kicks off next month involving girls aged six to 17 who will be able to attend three clinics at the Scotia Bank Sports Club in Liguanea, St Andrew, scheduled for July 16, 23 and 30.

“We have started registering aspiring netballers, six to 17 years old, who want to play. We are sending out registration forms, they get registered and then we send them an overview of the programne. Basically, that is how we will approach it, for the time being,” she explained.

“We want to give them some technical insight. Once you come in, we assess you to see what level you are at. But, if you are playing netball for the first time, we will have to have a coach specifically for that,” she noted.

“So, it is a personal approach we have to small groups with coaches providing the attention and the support they need to develop their game. It is now a pilot project that will run for six months from July 16 through to December. Every Saturday after July 30 we will have a programme,” she pointed out.

“We will be moving around. We are going into communities within the six-month period, taking netball into these communities. We are full to capacity right now for the clinics, but we will have space for more persons with the pilot project,” she explained.

“We want to go into the schools, too. We are going to have programmes designed to help the coaches, and we are looking for sponsors. We are in dialogue with some already. Hopefully we will get additional sponsorship so that we can cater to more people,” she added.

“I have a small team working with me now but, as it grows, as I hope we will, we are really looking at an entire sports complex where children can go and do their homework, and follow up with their training. We have a long-term objective to have everything under one cover,” she maintained.

Balford Henry

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