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Let the Kids Play ...

Former NEDA members Alexandra Yantzi (number 11) and Karly Roser (number 7) are at the center of this strange situation brewing in Steeltown. <em>(Canada Basketball)</em><strong></strong>
Former NEDA members Alexandra Yantzi (number 11) and Karly Roser (number 7) are at the center of this strange situation brewing in Steeltown. (Canada Basketball)

What do you get when you add two talented basketball players to a traditionally good basketball team and angry parents, threats of boycotts and no discernible rule breaking? You get a strange case of high schol girls basketball. The Can Ball Report's Ray Bala gives his take on this situation. The girls basketball season in the Hamilton area will certainly be a fun one this year!

When you were a kid all you wanted to do was play. It didn’t matter what time, what the weather was like, or whether you had to come in to eat, you just wanted to play. And kids should always be allowed to play, right?

But that isn’t the case with some people in Hamilton.

In the Steel City, what we have now is a several girls who played for the NEDA program that have decided to stay and continue their high school educations at their adopted school, St. Mary’s High School. Being that they are girls that play basketball, it wouldn’t surprise you that they would want to play for the school basketball team. But what should be taken as a boon time in the school’s basketball history has now become a battle of politics and nonsense.

Since Canada Basketball had experienced funding cuts earlier this year, the budding NEDA program had come to a grinding halt just when it was beginning to make big strides on an international level. Both boys and girls programs were shut down, for this season at least, and all the players were given the option of either going back to their home provinces or staying in Hamilton, where the programs were based, to continue in their respective schools.

Now it would not make sense that a high school kid that had spent two or three years at a school, having made friends and gotten to know the people and community in their adopted city would to stay put, correct? I mean, if you were a kid that moved around a lot then you know that it’s not easy to get settled into a new environment and make new friends. When you are settled in a situation as a kid, the last thing you want to do is move away from all that, especially when you are in your senior year of high school. It’s just easier to stay put.

So what’s the problem?

What can be gathered is that some people are upset that these highly skilled kids are allowed to be on this basketball team. So upset in fact that the other schools in the district are playing every game against St. Mary’s under protest after initially threatening to boycott.

But why are people on this tip? Really?

Ontario’s governing body for high school athletics (OFSAA) and the Hamilton area school athletic board (HWCAA) have already ruled the girls eligible (okay two of three since one of them played on the Senior National Team this past summer) to play since there is no violation in terms of transfer rules. All three students had been enrolled at the school and taking classes for several years. They simply have not played for the school basketball team.

So where is the problem?

There shouldn’t been one. St. Mary’s is a good team year in, year out without said NEDA girls but most people feel that this gives the team an unfair advantage, particularly when the city only sends one team to the provincial finals in the particular tier that the school plays in.

But really, is this truly about unfair advantage?

St. Mary’s plays in a traditionally strong league that sends many players to post secondary playing careers on either side of the border. There are several teams that vie for the top spot and the games are always hotly contested. On any given day a team could win or lose and the results would not be incredibly surprising.

So are grownups really trying to take a game away from these girls because there is a fear of not making a play off? Is there some other agenda? As adults, do we really want to send this message out? That if you are so good at something that you can only participate if you are not going up against me. What do people really have to gain by doing this? Do we really need to evaluate our system and ourselves?

These girls are high school students. They didn’t intend to play ball at the school but now that the program they were enrolled in has folded, they should be afforded the chance to represent the school they have been attending.

So what’s the bottom line to all this?

I think there are a whole lot of sour grapes growing up in Hamilton. There are always going to be people who cry unfair when there is something that directly prevents them from – dare I say it – winning. There have been many, many posts on a website that do nothing but exemplify that. Parents, particularly parents of players, and coaches find it unfair. And I’m sure that this is not isolated to the parents of the last two cut from the team either. I’m sure it extends to the parents of players on the opposing teams for sure. Mind you, this is a generalization but it seems to point in that direction since there is such an uproar that there is a petition that had/is circulating within the community and continues on the Forum of TheHoop-La website.

So what message is being flashed in big neon lights to these two girls who are victims of circumstance?

Despite the fact that there is no rule violation, despite that you are good at what you do, despite the fact that you are entitled as members of the school community: We don’t want you playing with us. Hmm, this sounds curiously similar to a situation that a large segment of the population had suffered in the past and I’ll let you make the loose connections to that. Now I’m not saying that it is a mirror of that time, but the underlying message is there. You may as well put up a sign above the door to the gym saying as much – You’re not wanted here.

When I was a high school kid playing on my school team, we always got smacked by the basketball powers in my division so we really didn’t care about which players were playing at which school. We would lose anyway. But if there were a few ringers, why would we care? Our biggest thrill was not who we were playing but playing the game itself. And if we happened to get crossed up or better yet stripped the guy who had a Division 1 scholarship (which I did once by accident) then that was an added bonus and a good story to tell. We played to play the game, period.

What I’m trying to say is this: let the kids play.

We complain about kids growing up too fast, aging before their time, yadda, yadda, yadda. But kids always stay kids when they are at play. The games may be for some stakes and they may be run by "adults" but the game at this level is always going to be played by kids (legally and figuratively). Kids who worry about kids things: how to wear their hair this morning, about a zit before the dance and if that boy they like likes them back. They are all still kids. Let them keep the one thing in their life that they can enjoy with the childlike enthusiasm that we as adults have increasing lost in lives having "grown up" over many years and seem to be trying to take away from these talented youngster.

I'm not angry at anything nor am I trying to judge or state a right or wrong stance. I only say that there are no rules being broken. With that said, just let the kids play.

R. Bala