By RON FANFAIR
These are exciting times for the sport of netball in Canada.
Former Jamaican administrator, Gail Harris, who moved to the Greater Toronto Area two years ago, has brought her expertise and enthusiasm to the national program. Jamaica is ranked fourth in the world behind Australia, New Zealand and England.
Inspired by Ontario’s dominance at last month’s national championships and the emergence of a few flexible players who have represented the Caribbean at the international level, Sharon Butler has come out of retirement to help Canada improve its world ranking and qualify for the next world competition in Singapore.
Butler, who plays centre, goal and wing attack, is one of seven Ontario players – all of them from the Caribbean – named in the national squad that will make the first step to ascend the rankings in the Nations Cup tournament in Singapore in December. Botswana, Northern Ireland, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and host country Singapore are ranked above Canada, which is 21st in the world.
“We have assembled one of our strongest squads to take part in the Nations Cup series,” said Butler, who last played for the national team two years ago and has made it clear that the December tournament will definitely be her last for Canada. “The thing about this squad that makes me feel good is that it is very versatile. Our strength is that we have girls who can play several positions. That’s huge.”
The Nations Cup series will serve as a dress rehearsal for Singapore that will host the 2011 World Championships. For Canada to qualify, it must be among the top 16 countries in the world.
“I think we can get there, starting with the December tournament,” said Harris, a former vice-president of the Business House Netball Association of Jamaica. “There was an intensive two-day camp in Vancouver earlier this month to select this team and the rivalry was very fierce among all of the candidates vying for selection. This is a good group of girls with a very high skill level who will bring a lot of energy when they get on the court in Singapore.”
In addition to Butler, the other Ontario players in the national team are Sasha-Lee Allen and Sherry-Don Nickie of Toronto Vixens Netball Club, Chantel Wynn and Tamara Rowe of Veejays, Tiffanie Wolfe of Twilight and Sheryl Thorpe of Commonwealth.
A former Jamaica national player, Thorpe – who plays the goalkeeper and goal shoot positions – coached the Ontario side that played unbeaten in last month’s national championships in the GTA. Wolfe, a goal and wing attack who also played for Jamaica and Nickie, a goal and wing attack who represented St. Vincent & the Grenadines before coming to Canada, were the captain and vice-captain of the winning provincial side.
Thorpe, Nickie and Rowe, who plays the wing attack and wing defense positions, are the newcomers on the national side.
The rest of the national team comprises British Columbia representatives Carolyn Churchland, Shawnette Cockburn, Melissa Crowe, Jessie Evans and Sabrina Versteeg.
As each team member attempts to raise the close to $3,500 to take part in Singapore, Harris said Netball Canada will be working to spread the game in the schools and get more Canadian-born players to take up the sport.
“It’s great to have the immigrants playing the sport, but we need to reach out to young players born here and get them to play netball,” Harris said. “As part of this process, we will stage exhibition matches at Downsview Park later this month and at the Canadian National Exhibition.”