It is that time of the year, summer is over and the long cold winter is approaching. It is at this time that many people start to think of tropical islands. When my mind turns to tropical islands it makes me remember the large number of Jamaican tennis players and coaches who led the Jamaican invasion of the 1970’s. This group helped shape the way the game of tennis is coached in Canada and helped to grow the game of tennis.
In the 1970’s communism was sweeping through the Caribbean. When the Jamaican PMP party took power many Jamaicans decide to leave the island and relocate in Canada. Fortunately for Canada it included several tennis coaches and players who would help enhance and grow the game of tennis in Canada. I am fortunate to have called most of them friends off of the court and many of them adversaries on the court. I lived and trained in Jamaica for 2 years, and gone back for numerous visits and married my wife down there as well.
My first exposure to Jamaicans in Canadian tennis came at the age of 11. I was the under 12 champion of my local outdoor club and a friend of mine who was the top under 14 told me about how his godfather ran a junior tennis program out of the Burlington Racquets Club and that I should try out. When I arrived I noticed that both the coach and many of the juniors spoke with a funny accent just like my friend. They were all ex-patriots who had left Jamaica and now were playing in Canada.
The coaches’ name was Harold Phillips. Harold had represented Jamaica in Davis Cup and had competed against the likes of Laver, Emerson and Roswell back in the day. His stable of juniors had some Canadian content but many hailed from Jamaica. They included his niece Sandra Phillips, Jay Bailey and the late Gillian Alexander. These 3 would capture Canadian national titles and all go on to play collegiate tennis in the U.S. Harold would coach several provincial and national champions before returning to Jamaica in the 90’s.
As I got older my world expanded and I realized that my little club in Burlington was not the only place in Canada that the Jamaican invasion had landed. Canadian competitive tennis was littered with Jamaican players. The ones that came before me were Robert Hale and Doug Burke. Both strong players, Doug would represent Canada on several occasions before returning to Jamaica to be the Davis Cup coach and help to grow tennis in Jamaica. Robert would play in many national championships before returning to the Caribbean.
In my age group there were two more Jamaican players that are probably the two most famous in Canada. There was Michael Thompson who, with his father Richard Thompson, has run a successful tennis school out of Collingwood for the last 20 years. Michael has won both provincial and national titles in tennis and continues to teach in Collingwood and Toronto. The other great Jamaican player is Karl Hale. Karl is presently the number one over 40’s player in the world. Has played for Jamaica in Davis Cup and has won Canadian national titles as well as playing for the University of New Mexico. His greatest accomplishment though is being 4-0 against me lifetime.
The level of play and numbers of titles that this small group of players was able to achieve was astonishing but the thing that is most special about the group of Jamaican players is how many of them remain in the game as tennis coaches. Of the players that I have mentioned, almost all of them are now full-time tennis professionals. It is through their coaching that they have made their greatest contributions. Karl and Michael remained in Canada running successful programs that bring enjoyment to their members and professionalism to our industry. They both run junior academies and continue to pass on their knowledge and love of the game to hundreds of children. Richard Hernandez who had played briefly with me as a junior came back from Jamaica and became the tennis Director at Richmond Hill Country Club. Gillian, Doug and Sandra all became full time instructors in Jamaica and Florida and continue to teach the way I was taught, sound fundamentals and a love and respect for the game.
So the next time you are taking a lessons and your professional seems to moving a little slow, or maybe you can’t understand a thing that he is saying, don’t get frustrated just remember that he could be one of the Jamaicans that invaded Canadian tennis in the 70’s.