At the tender age of seven, Latonia Blackman began her love affair with the sport of netball. A few decades later, the 35-year-old has solidified her place as one of the greatest Gems to wear the ultra-marine, gold and black uniform for Barbados.
Therefore, it was no surprise when the country’s most versatile player and vice-captain of the national senior team was named the Barbados Olympic Association’s Most Outstanding Female Athlete-of-the Year.
Always a lethal force to be reckoned with on court in the semi-circle, Blackman wrote her name on history’s page by becoming the most capped Barbadian netballer with 100 caps to her name, having represented her country for the past two decades at the senior level.
She is also the second person to play all seven positions for Barbados after Olivia Walcott.
Those accomplishments led her to being duly recognized for her incalculable contribution to the sport both as a player and an umpire.
Born and raised in Valery, Brittons Hill, the former national captain became the first netballer to receive the BOA’s top prize.
Blackman told Barbados TODAY she had been shocked by the announcement.
“I was so surprised because netball is a team sport and you would not look for a person getting an award, but yes, I did perform extremely well this year and feel extremely happy at receiving both awards, knowing that my hard work is being noticed,” said Blackman, who also captained Pride of Villa to third spot in the local Division One season.
Speaking about the progress made in 2017 by the senior national team, especially being ranked in the world’s top 10, Blackman said the achievement was the realisation of a dream they had always chased.
“This year the ladies had a desire to get back in the top 10 and therefore we did what we had to do to get there and that is to play competitive netball,” she explained.
“The Barbados Netball Association president, [Nisha Craigwell] ensured we had games to play in order to qualify for the Commonwealth Games next year.
“And with all the work she has been putting in, the only thing for us to do was reward the country by going out there and playing good netball and letting people know that Barbados is serious about putting its name out there as a team to reckoned with,” added Blackman, while hinting that 2019 might be her last international outing for Barbados at the World Cup in Liverpool, England.
Over the years, Barbados has produced several outstanding talents other than Blackman and Walcott. Lydia Bishop emerged as one of this country’s fiercest goal-shooters of all times while there was Jacqueline Browne-McConney; national Under-16 coach, Julie Phillips and Don Small, who in fact was the first player to 100 caps.
The National Sports Council Pine Hill Dairy Netball Competition has over the years been responsible for producing outstanding Barbadian players and in recent time, the tournament has ensured heightened interest in the sport.
Blackman said it was important the sport remained entrenched at the grassroots level if Barbados was to flourish at national level.
“We need to try and keep these young ladies in the sport especially at the primary school level,” she pointed out.
“When these young ladies leave and go onto secondary school, they prefer to go and do track or something else that they see as a positive cause. Netball doesn’t give scholarships but still it allows you to travel the world and we need to keep the young girls interested.
“We surely need a netball court. Yes, there is a court at the Wildey Gymnasium but we need our own indoor facility because when we utilize the gymnasium and go back on the hard court, it causes a lot of injuries.”
She added: “But when you have an indoor facility where you could practice all year round, you would see a lot more development.
“Once that development occurs, a lot more teams will visit Barbados to play and that would give us an opportunity to see the teams at a higher level where our netball needs to go.”