The newly-formed Kitsumkalum Basketball U13 team placed third in the Squamish Nation Indigenous Youth Basketball Tournament on April 28.
“For a lot of them, it was their first time travelling and going anywhere,” says coach Christina Stanley. “I hope [this tournament] gives them hope, excitement, and motivation to continue on.”
At the tournament, the Kitsumkalum Basketball U13 team played four games. They lost their first game to the North Shore Indians and knocked out the Tl’kemcheen Warriors in their second play. They then continued their winning streak and beat out the Tla-O-Qui-Aht Ladies, advancing to the semi-finals.
They returned to battle the North Shore Indians and fought hard, but were two baskets away from a tie when the buzzer rang.
“It was a sad excitement because we were two baskets off from going into finals, but they were just happy to place at all,” Stanley says. “[But] they’re all ready to hit the gym again. We were driving back on our 18-hour drive and the girls were already asking about having basketball practice the next day.”
The Kitsumkalum Basketball U13 team was formed following the end of the basketball season at school in February. Stanley says there was a lot of youth who still wanted to practice so alongside a few others, she volunteered to supervise the eager athletes three times a week at Kitsumkalum Hall to give them a space to play.
“We thought about what we could do and how we could keep it going so that they could train year round,” says Stanley. “You know, they’re staying fit, they’re staying healthy and doing something other than watching TV or playing video games. If my kids want to spend three hours on a Friday night in a gym, then I’m going to stay there and hang out with them.”
She says at each basketball night, a group of girls ages 13 and under were consistent in their attendance. They saw how dedicated they were to the game and found a tournament for them to take part in. They had enough members to put together a team and immediately started honing in on their skills.
“Maybe it was just word of mouth and girls were going to school, saying ‘this is so fun’,” says Stanley. “One kid brings a friend and next thing you know, we had lots of 13-year-olds running around.”
Within a month, they fundraised approximately $5,500 from running food sales and activities at various events to fund their trip to the Chief Joe Mathias Centre in North Vancouver. Kitsumkalum First Nation and other local businesses also stepped in to cover other costs, which Stanley says they would have not been able to go without their help.
Stanley says she’s glad the girls in the Kitsumkalum Basketball U13 team were able to have this experience, as many are in a “fragile age range” and it’s important to support them. Some were really nervous competing on the court, so they had to find ways to build their confidence to continue playing.
“We were talking to them and letting them know that everybody’s here to cheer. They’re not here to judge or get mad at them,” says Stanley. “It’s just really important to stay positive and stay happy because when you start to get frustrated, you start to lose games and it just loses focus.”
Alongside their third place win, they also had three of their team members recognized. Alura Boyes and Ashlie Stevens were both given an All-Star Award, and Victoria Stanley was awarded ‘Most Sportsmanlike Player’.
Stanley adds the Kitsumkalum Basketball U13 team has yet to decide on an official name for themselves but are hoping to participate in more tournaments throughout the year. Their basketball nights at Kitsumkalum Hall will continue every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, and is free for any young person to join.