Basketball players

Ottawa basketball players and programs try to bounce back despite tightening courts

The partial reopening of school gymnasiums for sports like basketball has left young basketball players and outreach programs in the cold again after the pandemic depleted the momentum of the rapidly growing game.

Ottawa’s English-language public and Catholic school boards issued permits this week to allow community groups to return to school gymnasiums.

Derek Firth, president of the Ottawa Shooting Stars Basketball Club, was one of the main voices in a petition for school boards to start reopening their courts, and he’s ready to return.

He said his club, which serves the heart of the city, had to double fees due to higher rent for private spaces.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can… to make this year fun and fall in love with the game again,” said Firth, who works with organizations like JumpStart to subsidize these fees.

“Our goal is to provide as many entry points as possible at younger ages and at different skill levels just to get the kids to the gym and play basketball.”

CBC News has contacted several basketball organizations who said they are in the process of determining which licenses will be renewed and how that will affect the programs they may offer. (Matthieu Kupfer / CBC)

Andy Waterman, head coach of Ottawa Phoenix Basketball, said he was relieved his team was allowed to return to Gloucester High School this week as cold temperatures hit.

He said the pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for more dedicated spaces to support basketball in underserved communities.

“On weekdays, weekday evenings and weekends the gyms have to be open. Before the pandemic there weren’t enough seats anyway,” Waterman said.

Older and competitive players are given priority

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has said most of its high school permit holders are allowed in, but they will not consider new permit applications and there is a vaccine requirement.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board said it is allowing one licensee per night at 72 of its schools – with vaccine and contact tracing requirements based on guidelines from Ottawa Public Health. The Catholic council also said teams that fail to follow public health guidelines will result in a two-year license suspension.

Despite this good news, space is limited and Firth said organizations have had to prioritize competitive basketball for players who hope to continue playing during their post-secondary education.

Children under 12, who have just become eligible to be vaccinated, and local league players may still have to wait until January or perhaps spring to resume play, Firth said.

He said some clubs might be able to use space they have already rented out on private courts to accommodate some of these young players.

Manock Lual said small organizations continue to struggle for access to gyms in their own communities, raising concerns about fairness in sport. (Geoff McCaldin)

Unequal access

For basketball programs like the social enterprise Prezdential Basketball, the pandemic has exposed the struggle to access it compared to more affluent groups who can get permits for months at a time.

“We are now seeing the flaws in the system that was put in place before the pandemic,” said executive director Manock Lual.

“For now, what I’d like to see is an equity lens focused on access to facilities.”

Lual said he was able to keep some of his programming, mostly free, in Lower Town and Overbrook with help from partners like the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, but the access to the school gymnasium would give a major boost.

“We cannot offer more programs due to lack of space,” said Lual, who does not already hold a license and cannot get court time.

“I wonder how can a local organization like mine access community facilities to run programs for the community? “

Ottawa basketball coaches say the city’s lack of court space predates the pandemic, but school closings have made matters worse. (Matthieu Kupfer / CBC)

Fewer girls return to sport

Girls’ play has been hit particularly hard and many have given up on the sport, according to Emma Gabriel, a grade 11 student at Cairine Wilson High School and a member of the Capital Courts Academy.

As she continues to play, says many friends have given up on her after years of playing together.

“I kept playing because I found most of my happiness through basketball, even with the lockdown,” she said, adding many interests lost due to virtual practices and the inability to play games.

“Many of them have simply lost their love for the sport.”

Gabriel has worked hard to get the attention of the scouts and she hopes a more regular training schedule and home games will get things back on track.

Capital Courts Academy coach Fabienne Blizzard has also seen girls drop out of the sport, and she says the pandemic has underscored the need for dedicated multi-court facilities to meet demand for basketball and basketball. other field sports.

WATCH: Emma Gabriel says a lot of her friends have quit playing basketball:

Basketball teams return to school gyms, but some players have already quit the sport

Emma Gabriel says many of her friends quit playing basketball after the pandemic left them without training space, access to gyms and screening opportunities. 0:53

The City of Ottawa does not currently plan to build dedicated indoor basketball courts, but plans to add seven more gymnasiums over the next 10 years to accommodate population growth, according to the Department’s Dan Chenier. City of Ottawa Parks and Recreation.

There will be walk-in basketball at 10 city-run gyms in November and December, which is roughly 80 hours of court time per week.

All in one day6:15Ottawa’s basketball programs bounce back

Ottawa’s English-language public and Catholic school boards issued permits this week to allow community groups to return to school gymnasiums. 6:15

For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.