The height to which road tennis has grown among local spectators and the number of participants it continues to attract must be commended, says Dale Clarke, chief executive officer of the Professional Road Tennis Association (PRTA).
Clarke said that the decision to take this country’s indigenous sport and introduce it within communities has resulted in a surge of individuals that now play the game.
He told Barbados TODAY that more importantly, by taking road tennis from the less fortunate areas around the country to the middle and elite classes have also made the difference in terms of how people view the sport.
“Through the years especially when we started taking it out from the impoverished areas and we started playing it in different areas, you start to see a rise. Middle-class people started getting involved in it. Also, the elite class in Barbados started showing interest in the sport.
“It is pleasing that nearly every community that you go into you can see someone playing road tennis. The courts, people have painted courts and they are always asking for equipment, balls. Actually now with the COVID-19, we are experiencing a ball shortage because we import the balls from China.
“The growth of the sport has been amazing. So good to see so many people play it to get exercise. There are a lot of areas now that are popping up that people are forming clubs. I am very pleased and as I say to people all the time, road tennis was perceived as the poor people sport. But it is a Barbados indigenous game so it should be in the DNA of all Barbadians,” Clarke said.
The PRTA has been in existence for 19 years and has organised several major tournaments which feature the likes of Barbados number one ranked, Mark ‘Venom’ Griffith who has been the dominant young player in the sport.
Then there is Julian ‘Michael Jackson’ White and Antoine ‘Lil Man’ Daniel of older vintage. Also in the mix are young upcoming talents Shakeen Nurse and Dario Hinds, among others.
While PRTA puts on profitable tournaments for its players, Clarke explained that there was a need to focus on road tennis from the grassroots level to ensure other talented players were discovered.
He said there were plans for school road tennis as they look to work with the Ministry of Sports and the National Sports Council in order to make that a success. Clarke explained that the head coach at PRTA, Winslow Birkett, was also willing to assist where needed.
“Even though there is a primary school road tennis tournament, I think there is a lot more we can do with the development aspect of it. The tournament should really be the icing on the cake but the hard work is actually getting the youngsters to play at a certain level. And that could only be done by coaching.
“We are looking to do clinics on Saturday mornings, at different parts of the island where we could get kids coming out and give them a two-hour coaching session weekly. Then they can take it back into different parts of the community where they come from and play. That is the only way we are going to keep the sport alive,” Clarke explained.
He added: “We did a programme in St. Vincent and the way the sport has taken off in St. Vincent is amazing. So many people are playing, they paint courts in their communities. The guy that does it sends the videos and they are doing a lot of work there. At the end of the day, it is our indigenous sport and we want to be the world leaders in it.”