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Merle Baggoo: Smashing Stereotypes

Sunday, May 14 2017

If you believe that Merle Baggoo’s agenda seems too long and intense for a 71-year-old, then you should see her energy and footwork at a national tabletennis tournament

Sport has always been a part of Merle’s life as she grew up in California, Couva which was relatively close to the Gilbert Park where cricket and football were played at a local and international level. Being the last of six siblings she was responsible for maintaining test cricket scores for the public on a chalk board at her family’s place of business while everyone else played. But, in a short period of time, developing on her observation skills she became the best of the crew as she always had company to practice whether in tabletennis, football or cricket.

Then, tragedy struck for Merle as both parents died within a year of each other, leaving her devastated.

But she used it as motivation to strive for success.

A few months later, she had a more positive life changing moment which assisted her transition from a recreational to a national player as she attended a Caribbean Table Tennis Championships held in Trinidad.

She began her table- tennis career immediately and the Naparima Girls High School student represented TT from 1960-1964, winning Caribbean awards in 1960 for most promising and most improved player one year later. Despite having to focus on her Cambridge exams, the twinkle-toed Merle captured the national singles and mixed doubles competition in 1963. Her most notable career victory was winning the Women`s Doubles at the 1975 US Open A Class in Houston, Texas.

Due to her excellent performances, the defensivestyle player was nominated in 1964 for Sports Person of the Year. “Those days there was one award, no separation for male or female. I went up against Roger Gibbon, Johnny de Peza, Thora Best and Charlie Davis.” Accompanying her eldest brother, who was a national football referee to School Inter-col, North vs South, Malvern vs Maple games encouraged her to follow in his footsteps to become a referee. Following her mantra “Live the life you speak”, in 1963 she became the _ rst female football referee in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and possibly the Commonwealth. The “Lady Ref” did numerous matches at Skinner Park and Mahaica Oval, and was recently recognised by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association for this achievement dated 54 years ago.

“In 1964, I left in the prime of my sporting career to study Urban Geography at the University of British Columbia, Canada. I always wondered what would have been if I stayed at home.” She continued to _ y the TT _ ag with distinction as she played table-tennis for her university and refereed friendly football matches.

To convince Merle to put away a whistle or a tabletennis racquet at any time is almost impossible, but she described the time she had to as the best moment of her life. “Motherhood is the best feeling in the world. It’s hard work, a serious job and you always feel that you can do a better job. I had to drop out of sports, work, and the children took all the time. But it couldn’t be possible without support. My son Chaka is 47 and my daughter Tanisha is 45, oh my goodness where has the time gone?” She returned to playing table- tennis and participated regularly in tournaments throughout Canada and USA.

The Engineering Technologist adapted another role to promote TT`s culture in Canada. “I lived in Edmonton, Alberta for many years too and while there I was on the Board of directors of Cariwest, which staged the largest Carnival out West. Then I moved back to Vancouver where I was the VP and treasurer of the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Society of British Columbia, where I was involved in staging cultural events. I even had parang cruises at Christmas.” She was also a member of the Vancouver Black Action Group, as she was an ardent follower of Black history.

The current number _ ve ranked, Merle returned home permanently just under a decade ago and she started working straight off the plane. “I helped Harvard structure its fraternity to be a part of Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association. I did the same at QPCC (Queen’s Park Cricket Club), although they played for decades but now we have our own training centre and a continuous league. Hopefully, one day QPCC could produce various teams and have a coaching programme for our youths.” When Merle is not listening to the music of Bobby Womack, or reading her favourite book, Younger Next Year for Women, she is probably sitting on a committee or revising a constitution for an association.

So, whenever you see this enthusiastic, well-dressed, hot-mouthed little lady at the Queen’s Park Oval, Hasely Crawford Stadium or staying low and chopping multiple balls at a table tennis tournament, remember her contribution to sport.



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