By Neto Baptiste
A former national and regional netball administrator, Sybil Walling may not be the most popular of household names when it comes to sports here in Antigua, but that may only be as a result of her deliberate and, some may say, calculated long distance relationship with the media and the attention that comes along.
Considered one of the country’s iconic women in sports, Walling — who was born in neighbouring Montserrat but migrated to Antigua at the age of four and enrolled in the TOR Memorial High School — spoke exclusively with the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show on Tuesday, highlighting what she considers some of her most memorable moments in netball and life here in Antigua.
One such memory is her decision, in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s to jumpstart what, at that time, was considered an organised social gathering of players to casually compete against each other … a move that would blossom into the country’s first official association and league.
“I don’t remember exactly what age I was, but I was still going to school and I had gone back to Montserrat and my sister invited me to attend the tournament down there which was being held — the Caribbean tournament — and I was so enthused that I decided that I would do the sport when I came back to Antigua,” she said.
“I came back up and I decided I was going to start a school team and so we started a school team and then we were just playing for fun, really, because there was no competition at the time. Eventually, the clubs got together and they formed an association and it grew from there on,” the former player added.
Walling, who is also a past president of the Caribbean Netball Association (CNA), said it took a massive effort to bring the final product together.
“I can’t be very clear as to the timing as to when we formed the association, but I was the first treasurer and I can remember that and we opened it up to the older persons who were there like the Walwyns and so on, and then I think it was the Ivy League girls, but that was such a long time ago but we all got together and formed a little association,” she said.
Asked about her proudest moment, Walling identified the country’s participation in the 1983 Netball World Cup held in Singapore as one of the country’s defining moments.
“People were asking, ‘Singapore? Where is that?’ They had never heard of it before and the government was fully on board, Mr Bird [Sir VC Bird] was very proud. As a matter of fact, I remembered hearing that the first morning he had parliament, when we were in Singapore, he actually mentioned it, that we had won our first match and he thought we had done very well … that the ladies represented Antigua very well,” the former administrator said.
Antigua and Barbuda finished ninth overall in the tournament in which 14 teams competed for top honours. Australia won the 1983 title with New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago finished second and third, respectively.