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Captain of the ‘Calypso Girls’ World Netball Champions 1979 – Sherril Peters
Forty years ago, almost, Sherril Peters led T&T to arguably its most significant achievement in international team sports, the 1979 World Netball Tournament. T&T tied as joint champions with the perennial champion netball nations, Australia and New Zealand.
“It feels just like yesterday,” says Peters, reflecting on the World Netball Tournament here in Port-of-Spain at the then West PoS Regional Park Sports Complex.
“The memories remain; great memories that cannot be replaced; memories that you will always have close to your heart,” says Peters, with a little glistening of her eyes.
But the celebration was not only for Peters, her team, and coach/manager, Lystra Lewis; it was for the relatively small but enthusiastic netball following, and for the whole country to glow in.
“How did it feel going into the tournament?” I asked Peters.
“There was a lot of preparation. Lystra Lewis (and she calls that name with a certain amount of reverence, affection, and thankfulness for the contribution made by the coach/manager and everything) was the driver behind the whole netball thrust in T&T. She took us on a lot of international tours. From 1978, we went all the way to Australia; we did very, very well there, and that set the tone for the team.
“When we returned home, we knew that we had to continue what we started,” says Peters. “Trinidad and Tobago had been a respectable fourth place ranking behind the Big Three. But the team was maturing; the 1979 tournament was being played in our backyard; Lystra Lewis had sounded the bell, and the ambition, this tournament had to be ours in the bag.”
At home, netball at the then Eddie Taylor courts (named after the mayor of the City, at the Princes Building grounds) had become an obsession.
The passion for the game among young females was high; the spectators attended with religious fervor; and as Peters says, when the two top teams, Pan Am Marvelites and Carib Senators, clashed, “it was like a (cricket) Test Match.”
On the Marvelites team there were Jean Pierre, Hermione McIntyre, Sherril Peters. Senators included Angela “Pinky” Drayton, Enid Browne, Althea Thomas and Janet Bailey—the latter a most formidable defender whom players did not simply slide past on their way to goal. “Both teams brought out the best in each other, and we looked forward to those games,” Sherril remembers.
Peters had her initiation into netball with a team, Wanderers that played in a league in Tunapuna. An older relative had introduced her to the game. As was prevalent in those days of team sport, come the day for a game, a team would likely be short of a player or two; Peters was conscripted.
“Wanderers was short this day, and they gave me this uniform and told me you can play everywhere in the centre, just don’t go into the two circles on the court, and do not walk or run with the ball. I went on to the court and started to play netball.” That was the total sum of formal coaching, and from there it was practice at the Barataria (Peters’ hometown) Savannah against Ebonites, a male team.
“That gave us the rigour, the toughness and the basketball skills, because you are playing against guys who were bigger and stronger than you were, and you had to have a lot of skills to get around them to get the ball,” remembers Peters.
She considers her Barataria neighbour, Mr Douglas, who took his daughters and herself to play netball in Port-of-Spain to have been critical to her development. “I would not have been able to get into PoS and back; remember I was in school at that time. Barataria was like country in those days of limited transport, and it was difficult for a young person to be going into PoS and back.”
The coaches in the Marvelites team were the senior players: “We really did not have a coach per se. We had Jean (Pierre) who had some experiences playing before we did, and she would have shared those with us, and we all played and jelled so well together. But we also had supporters on the sidelines driving you and telling you what to do and what not to do.”
“We did quite a lot of work with the Parris brothers; they were like the fitness gurus of the team. They would take us on Saturdays, sometimes on a Sunday morning. Those training sessions were very instrumental in raising the fitness levels of our team.
“They took their job, even if it was for “thanks,” very seriously. They worked very well with Lystra, although she would cut the training at times because she wanted to coach her netball, and did not want to have a tired set of players.” I asked Peters about the extraordinary level of commitment in the T&T netball team.
“I think it came from personalities, people wanting to be a part of a winning team. I can’t help but call the name of Lystra Lewis, who was a winner; that is how she operated. She knew the players, what she was about, I think she believed that 1979 would have been her year of glory, and we decided that we should give her that.”
Also in great abundance on the team were extraordinary talents and skills; the dribbling, the feinting and clever ball play. “That was the ‘Calypso Girls’ talent as we were known across the world. It was just like dancing, the rhythm of T&T that we played and showcased in netball.
“It was said in the Caribbean and across the world that we played a different style; we played our own unique play, and a lot of people tried to connect with that, and tried to see what we were doing to counter those skills; it was really a spectacle.
“By the time the other teams and players reacted to the dummies, the unorthodox passes and so on, the ball was gone to another player. In our interceptions it seemed as if we were flying through the air.
Australia and New Zealand played a stand and stop brand of game; we played flowing continuous game not stopping, opposing players could not counteract that style of play.
“As captain I brought the leadership skills the officials were looking for and the talent on the field. At that point it could have been anyone selected.
“I am grateful I was selected. I remember when I was first selected as captain in 1978 to tour Australia,
I was a little bit timid because the team had all these senior players and I was thinking in my head how do I get these people on a team to be responding to me as a captain as a leader, how do I achieve that?
“The selectors felt I could be the change agent, and so I took up the task and decided I would give it my all, and I had the support of my family, and that helped.
“Leading required being a part of the team getting into the bowels of your team mates to get to know them well so you could relate and communicate with them even with negatives, but it is how you turn that around and get a team together.
“The leadership is what made us one team and a winning team.”
(To be continued tomorrow)
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