Tseshaht ready to host new hoops tourney on May long weekend | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tseshaht ready to host new hoops tourney on May long weekend

Port Alberni, BC

Port Alberni is about to get hit with a new basketball championship some are calling “May Madness”.

Currently, 46 teams are registered for the first-ever Tseshaht Lightning Basketball Tournament on May 17 to May 19, which features six divisions: senior men, senior women, intermediate boys, intermediate girls, U13 boys and U13 girls.

“There is a hunger for the sport of basketball in Port Alberni,” said tournament organizer and Tseshaht Lightning U13 girls coach Nasimius Ross. “Basketball has been really hot. It’s been an awakening here in our town.”

The tournament is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous players.

“We wanted to be really inclusive and multi-cultural. Just have everyone together, enjoying a sport, meshing together,” said Ross, who has three of four daughters playing in the event (Mia, Inissa and Parris).

Ross told the Ha-Shilth-Sa it took nothing but a day and a half for all the tournament spots to fill. Teams are coming from Similkameen, Heiltsuk up in Bella Bella and all around Vancouver Island, including a whooping 10 teams from Ahousaht.

Maaqtusiis Ravens player Courtenay Louie says a few of their groups had funds leftover from All Natives to pay the $500 per team entry fee, while other squads are fundraising to go. 

“Basketball has always been big in our community, but I think people are actually showing commitment to going and being in shape,” said Louie, noting that as the executive assistant for the Ahousaht Education Authority she’s tasked to book the Maaqtusiis gymnasium.

“Every night there is usually enough men there for four or five teams, drop-in style. On the weekends, there is usually enough for more. The gym is always full. Our U13 girls and boys go to the track and gym every day,” said Louie.

 Gaining access to facilities in Port Alberni is no slam dunk

What began as an idea for a year-end hoopfest and a means to raise funds for Tseshaht’s trip to the Junior All Natives quickly turned into an “eye-opening” journey into the world of facility politics for Ross.

While Tseshaht donated the Maht Mahs gymnasium and the School District (SD) 70 waived their hourly rental fee, the custodial costs associated with keeping a unionized employee at each SD 70 facility on a weekend was a shocker. Custodial services are $70 per hour on weekends and stat holidays for a minimum of four hours, according to the school district.

“I understand you have to keep the lights on, but investment in youth outweighs any amount of money for me. We have to give them opportunities to grow and even taste an experience to see if they like it or not,” said Ross.

Steve Sperger, founder of Rain Basketball Academy, cancelled a June tournament because of lofty Alberni custodial fees.

“We’re going to a tournament in Duncan instead. Other communities charge a lot less,” said Sperger. “We’re all volunteers. It’s not like we have money sitting in a bank account somewhere that can support this kind of (fee). We have money in the bank account for kids to play basketball.”

Tim Davie, SD 70 Superintendent of Schools, spoke about the custodial fee.

“That’s a collective agreement. We don’t set that (hourly) rate,” said Davie. “Again, custodians are there all day to make sure the building is clean, and if there are needs on behalf of renters that their needs are met, and they also provide security within our buildings.”

Davie went on to emphasize that there is a different fee structure for non-profit and for-profit groups, and in recognition of rightsholders in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, the hourly fee structure for Indigenous youth groups is waived.

In addition to the custodial fees, the Tseshaht Lightning hired 15 professional referees to the tune of $12,000; that covers a $125 per game fee, gas mileage, food and accommodation.

“Money is nothing compared to youth development. If we can create core memories or spark somebody that’s off to the NBA or WNBA… we have to create these (opportunities) so they can find that path,” said Ross.

Sperger highlights that community-minded folks like Ross are not doing it for themselves — they’re doing it for the kids.

“We have a strong tradition here in Port Alberni of basketball,” said Sperger. “Totem is one of the best tournaments in the province. It’s 68 years old. The Alberni Athletic Hall has a strong basketball background. Port Alberni has won a national men’s championship many years ago. There is a real foundation of older guys here in town that are passionate about basketball.”

Games start on Friday, May 17 and Opening Ceremonies are Saturday, May 18 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Alberni Athletic Hall. Admission is $10 per game or $25 for an all-facility weekend access pass. For full tournament schedule, visit the Facebook page: Tseshaht Lighting Basketball Tournament.

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