AS a footballer, playing centre half for Jamaica or for St Mary or Black Stars FC in St Ann, he was known as ‘Brutal’. As a cricketer, playing for St Mary or St Ann, he was competent behind the stumps.
In those days, no one, not even Desmond Brown himself, would have guessed that 30-odd years later he would be a top-notch tennis player who has trained dozens of Jamaicans who have gone on to represent Jamaica at the international level and to become tennis pros in North America and Europe.
But that is the story of Desmond Brown. Well, part of it, because Brown has so much to tell of his involvement in sports in Jamaica.
In an interview last week, Brown relived some of his experiences, going back to the late 1970s into the ’80s when he was a regular on the national football team, up to the point when he took up coaching in tennis around 25 years ago.
Today, it is fair to say that Desmond Brown has been the pillar on which tennis in Ocho Rios has been built. Such is the contribution of the man.
“I do a lot and I don’t really regret it,” Brown said.
Rooting for Brown
A lot indeed. Brown currently coaches tennis at Mystic Ridge courts in St Ann, concentrating on kids like he has done over the years, dating back to the early days on the court at Turtle Towers.
“It’s hard to even remember some of those guys but I have guys all over the world (that I’ve coached),” Brown revealed. “Most of the guys them, they have become big tennis pros in Florida, Germany, England, Canada, as Jamaican coaches, and they all came through me,” related Brown.
“I also used to work with Justin Brown (no relation) a little bit on weekends. He used to come up from Montego Bay, work out with Sylvester Black, Johnny Rosetta, Nicholas Malcolm, Norman Black, Gary Henry. He used to come up here as a kid because Montego Bay didn’t have any tennis; all the tennis was coming through me,” Brown recounted. “At the US Open, we were all there in Jamaican colours, in the players’ box, rooting for (Justin) Brown.”
Desmond Brown, who represented Jamaica, later switched allegiance to Great Britain because of his paternal British grandparents, then to Germany where he was born. Brown, who hails from Port Maria, St Mary, but currently residing in St Ann, got involved with tennis at around age 18.
“I wanted to learn the game but no one wanted to teach me because I was poor and I couldn’t pay the fee; in those days I was just a little ball boy,” he recalled.
“Port Maria used to have some grass courts where the richer class of people play. We schoolkids, couple of us, we used to go there after school, pick the balls up for the players and throw the balls back, that was it. Then they stopped us from coming there.”
“Later, I got a work down here at Jamaica Inn hotel and a white guy saw me hitting against the wall one day and said, ‘Hey, you can be a good tennis player if you want to and you can put cricket away’. He put a racket in my hand and said, ‘Hey, Desmond, you’re a natural!’ That’s how I got started. So I learned to play the game. As a player, I reached number two in Jamaica.”
Brown later switched to coaching and concentrated on helping underprivileged youth in St Ann, using courts at Turtle Towers, which are now out of use. He invested countless hours and money in helping the youngsters, remembering how he, as a lad, yearned to play the game but couldn’t afford to.
“Doing this is not really for money, I do it to develop tennis in Ocho Rios. It’s not all about money for me, it’s what I want to see happen in Ocho Rios, for the tennis to develop,” he shared.
And he has done a lot with minimal assistance.
“A few people around like lawyer Donaldson, Bobby (Bijoux), Mohan Jewels; lawyer Richmond and Mrs Richmond, those are the guys who really helped me; every time I have a tournament, those are the first people who come and say, ‘Desi, we’re in’,” Brown acknowledged.
Brown currently has several kids working with, aiming for them to gain scholarships to study abroad. Three in particular, two from Ocho Rios High School and one from Marjam Preparatory, are good prospects and should be ready by next summer or end of year.
Brown’s work over the years has not gone unnoticed. In 1990, he was recognised by the United States Olympic Committee with a tennis diploma. Every summer, for the past 10 years, he has worked with Kutsher’s Sports Academy, New York, teaching tennis.
In 2002, Brown was featured in the French Open magazine. In August this year, several of the persons who have benefited from his expertise paid homage to him, with a big award ceremony at Iberostar hotel in St James, including a week-long stay at the resort.
One of Brown’s greatest moments as a player was in the ’90s when he played in a WTA tournament in Montego Bay where players such as John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Stefan Edberg participated.
Brown recounted: “I got to the round of 16. This (was) my greatest moment, this guy was beating me 6-0 and a friend of mine behind me, Norman Watkiss, said to me, ‘Desi stop hitting the topspin ball and go for the slice!’ And this guy had me 5-0 and 40-love. Trust me, I remember that moment until today. I started to hit the slice on both sides, forehand, backhand until I came back at 4-5, serving to go 5-all and the guy quit! Said the sun was too hot. He quit and gave me the match.”
Brown plans to continue coaching and hopes to revive tennis in Ocho Rios but needs help, especially where courts are concerned.
“If we had the facility like in Kingston or Montego Bay, we can get back to where we used to be. Now if the Government comes in and fix back those tennis courts down by Turtle Towers before I die, I would lift my hand to God and say thank you. And I would go there and work for free to get the tennis back to Ocho Rios,” Brown committed.
“Me, Gary, Trevor, Norman, Nicholas, we can bring it back,” he added.
He also had kind words for Tennis Jamaica head Aubyn Hill.
“Mr Aubyn Hill is a good president, he’s been doing a lot for the little time he has been there,” said Brown. “With a guy like that it can only get better, once he has all the people behind him. It only can get better. But I’d love Tennis Jamaica to come out in the country and really see what we’re working with; it’s nothing too good right now, and then start to help us. If I get to courts right now, tennis can come back in Ocho Rios, there’s no doubt,” Brown added.