A netball icon passes
Dominica was fortunate to have had several exceptional and highly dedicated players in the sixties and seventies when the time arrived to take the sport of netball into its golden age here. Introduced only a few years earlier by a few ladies, netball took immediately to the public fancy. However, a spurt in playing standards occurred only after the game attracted a few youngsters invested with the acumen vital to acquiring elevated technical standards of performance. One of the elite pioneering agents was Alma Ann John, later Cools Lartigue. She passed away recently in the USA and a memorial service will take place for her at the Cathedral Chapel in Roseau on 1st April.
To fully understand what the context of the sport entailed in its early days it should be borne in mind that netball came on the Dominican scene when there was no formal competitive sports for women. Very serious physical exertion was regarded as out of bounds for girls. As a consequence, Dominica entered its initial appearances in Caribbean tournaments at highly distinct disadvantages anchored in its social background. Losses to St. Lucia, Montserrat, St. Vincent and Trinidad quite unflatteringly had our national team failing to pass eight goals in their match tally. Vowing to alter this highly unenviable state of affairs was Medina Johnson-Detouche (later Germaine) and a few other teenagers who were willing to form netball teams to carry the development torch forward.
Alma in company with Medina, Dorothy Didier-Charles and others with similar bearing moved to chart new territory and dispel certain social norms. Standing no taller than five feet five inches, she took it upon herself to occupy the position of Goal Defence, one of the most taxing in netball, and to lift it into a dynamic positional force. Not satisfied with the job of cutting down opposing shooters to manageable size, Alma took on the role of expanding her team's attacking power.
When Dominica maximized its scoring potential to register sixty to eighty goals in regional matches the uninitiated would limit its regard to the potency of the shooting. This was totally unskilled assessment. Such thinking excluded recognition of Alma as exceptional play maker and continuous assistant to the shooters – with many of her penetrating passes supplied at a range in excess of thirty feet!
Many sports personalities are accounted merely in the statistics normally deriving from their onfield or oncourt performances. That of Alma goes much further. Behind Dominica's brilliance – something the public never saw – was the extent of training going on behind the scenes in preparation for a tournament. She wholeheartedly gave herself to the running of miles of road work and in exemplary fashion urged her colleagues to cultivate highly desirable training workloads. That type of team spirit proved invaluable at a time when athleticism in Dominica was a long way from acceptance as fundamental, and for that matter even in the rest of regional sports.
My memory recalls that Alma on visit to a training session I was conducting with the national football team suggested the men might be required to engage in twelve mile runs since the girls were working out with six miles. Her advocacy was not in any way intended to be punitive. Only offered commensurate with Dominica being enabled to do much better in another regional sport.
Ever ready to work hard, and very intelligently as well, Alma displayed an excellent sporting attitude. However, she could at times become impatient with match officials failing to line up to standards of efficiency in interpretation and application of the rules governing the sport of netball, particularly as she saw the regulations as biased in favour of shooters – with distinct disfavor against defenders.
How well would a player like her adapt to the recent international innovation in netball referred to as FAST FIVE? You can bet your bottom dollar she would thrive on the mercurial excitement afforded by the elevated tempo. For one thing, she enjoyed a place in the thick of the action which now allows scope for three points obtainable from three point ranges, and even double that during powerplay segments. As many as fifty years ago Alma took readily to exploratory diversions in team practices modified to allow shooting from outside of the regular shooting circle. That was many years before three point shots were introduced to basketball.
Never content to sit on her academic laurels, Alma took consistent opportunity to enhance her qualifications as a school teacher and attained bachelors and masters degrees in the field of education. It was at one such early course of study in Antigua she devotedly assisted with introduction of netball to that island. Prior to her embarking on her further studies I recall seeing her engaged in holding a class at the Goodwill Junior High School, which class entailed no less than sixty and close to eighty students! When asked whether that number of students was customary she simply shrugged her shoulders and said it was part of the game.
In due time she joined matrimonially with Joey Cools-Lartigue, himself a former Dominica national footballer. Following retirement from the public service Alma Ann (John) Cools-Lartigue enjoyed appointment with Ross School of Medicine with whom she functioned as expert in the tuition of a Kindergarten class at Portsmouth. This fitted immensely with her diploma awarded for the teaching of reading while studying in England.
Given the evidence of lower standards in sport currently noticeable in Dominica, and the consistent enquiry by members of our public who yearn for the blessings of former years, one can only sigh for the good old days when it was not unusual to blossom forth individuals with a hunger to see Dominica lifted on pedestals eminent in the regional arenas. Will we see another like Alma Ann (John) Cools-Lartigue? It may be possible. Meanwhile, we offer our condolences to her sister Vyleen who survives her and her children Tamara, Dane and Danella, and her very many former netball colleagues and multitude of acquaintances. May the Almighty Lord grant her the blessings of His bountiful presence. Hers was a talent beautifully bestowed and was fully expressive of exceptional sporting quality. I was illuminated by my knowledge of her – decorated by a sharp wit and genial bearing. She could have excelled in any sport of her choosing.