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EXPANDED OPPORTUNITIES TO PLAY TENNIS, SWIM AND SAIL
Thursday 8th March 2012

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Cricket, football, and basketball are probably the sports with the most accessibility for your average Antiguan and Barbudan youth. Swimming, tennis, and sailing, not so much; they tend to be on the more expensive side – with facilities, transportation, and financing identified as limitations. But that’s changing.
 
The Antigua and Barbuda Tennis Association reports that they’re currently working to revive interest and access for junior players. “To facilitate this,” a spokesperson said, “we have procured 50 age appropriate racquets and, with the ITF [International Tennis Federation] ball subsidy, we will be able to take tennis to the streets.” They’re also planning a March follow up to their October workshop for coaches and physical education teachers.
 
Re access, the Club courts tend to be on resorts. But the ABTA plans to refurbish the Vikings court, just outside St. John’s City, converting it into the national tennis centre. “The location of Vikings is central and juniors from schools around the island can and will be able to use the facility for a small fee,” the ABTA rep said. Financing to complete this facility is a hurdle, as is financing to facilitate participation in regional and international tournaments. The considerable strides they’ve made with their limited resources – such as juniors ranked in the top 10 among players in the Caribbean and Central America and handpicked for training camps and touring teams – is just a small indicator of the potential.
 
“Playing a sport such as tennis can secure the future of any athlete,” the ABTA rep said, speaking of opportunities to secure athletic scholarships.
 
To help identify talent and prep juniors for the circuit, we saw, in recent months, domestic tournaments like the inaugural Rupert K. Tournament, the Halcyon Tennis club 12 and Under Junior Tournament, and the Tennis with Samantha 10s Tennis Tournament. The ABTA intends to host more junior tournaments in 2012. Dreaming big, they also hope to host the regional twelve and under junior development championships in July 2012. But they’ll need as Sassy sang a few years ago better facilities to accommodate this; “a facility that has six courts plus practice courts”, according to their newsletter. Clearly a national tennis centre would, therefore, boost Antigua and Barbuda’s sports tourism potential, while attracting young people to the game by increasing accessibility.
 
Another group committed to increasing accessibility is swim club Swalings. The club offers, in addition to paid learn-to-swim classes for students as young as three months, free water safety and awareness workshops for schools, and some church and community groups.
Plus, “in the last two years,” a rep added, “Swalings officially launched its Scholarship Program teaching over 150 children free of charge for an entire year including hats and goggles. We then further that, offering 200 more children free swimming lessons on a termly basis… (for) a total of 350 children on full scholarships.” They also, under the National Schools Learn-to-Swim Programme, started in 2010, offer discounted swimming lessons to over 15 schools –accessing a total of 600 potential swimmers.
 
 “We have private buses pick the children up and take them to and from school or their clubs,” the rep explained.
 
They’re seeing the benefits, in terms of people graduating from the programme to the national team and, generally, increased water confidence. “One of the most significant successes is that some of our first year scholarship recipients who couldn’t swim when they started are now training with Swalings to become qualified swimming instructors, helping with the classes and forging a career path in a sport they now love,” the Swaling rep said.
 
Swalings has a board position, meanwhile, with the National Sailing Academy, which is the official 2012 charity of the prestigious Antigua Sailing Week. 
 
“The 2012 team is shifting the focus,” an ASW announcing the relationship, indicated, “so that people can see the opportunities that exist to get involved ‘on the water’ …Until recently, (it has) remained difficult for youths living outside of English Harbour or those who can’t swim to have the opportunity to learn to sail.” In existence since 2010, the NSA is changing that with a student population currently at 150 – the students are bused in and the Academy covers the cost of the lessons. But there are challenges there as well, as noted in the same release; a major one being capacity – hence the plan to create satellite stations at Jolly Harbour and Parham. “This way we will be able to more easily offer lessons to all schools across Antigua. Our ultimate goal is to have 500 children a week learn to sail.”
 
These initiatives if they continue to attract corporate and public sector support will ensure that what was once perceived as elite sports become widely accessible.


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