She Shoots, She Scores!
The Brantford Girls CYO Basketball Association is building a love of the game – and community.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, September 26, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioSome stars of tomorrow brought to you by Brantford Girls CYO Basketball. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
On Saturday mornings, the Assumption College School gymnasium will once again be filled with the sweet sound of sneakers squeaking on wood floors and basketballs swishing through nets.
The return of Brantford Girls CYO Basketball Association’s House League, a grassroots program introducing females from ages four to 14 to the game, is particularly joyful this September, after a two-year hiatus.
“I feel like we're starting over,” President Tammy Ryan tells BTOWN, “It's been two and a half years of pretty much no basketball.” With schools limiting community use of their facilities throughout the worst of the pandemic, “We made the toughest decision ever to say that we couldn't do House League,” she says.
The non-profit organization emerged from the Catholic Youth Organization basketball club for boys, started locally by Monseigneur Harvey Roach and Paul Mitchell in 1956. “We don't actually have an exact date of how it evolved with the girls,” Tammy says, “It kind of just did over the years.”
Young athletes intent on learning basketball's strategy. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Despite its beginnings with the church, the basketball league is for the community, and a recent rebrand reflects the most important affiliation the organization has: Brantford. “It's for everybody. Part of the rebranding is keeping the ‘CYO’ in there because it's our history. But making sure it's Brantford Girls Basketball. That's the biggest thing,” says Tammy.
Replacing the formerly green logo, is the team name, “Falcons,” emblazoned in red and white, the colours traditionally associated with Brantford’s sports teams. “The Wayne Gretzky Sports Center and the 99ers and the softball leagues, they're all red and white,” Tammy says.
Although she has been President of the Association since 2018, Tammy didn’t have much personal connection to basketball until her daughter started playing House League in 2007. “She would have been four at the time, and my husband was the coach of her team,” Tammy says. When her son turned four several years later, Tammy enrolled him too, and at 15, he’s still playing. “My daughter is a university rugby player, so basketball was the foundation for her to start her rugby career,” Tammy says.
When her kids got a little older, she joined the board as Secretary where she worked alongside then-President Jennifer Kings-Nagy, who Tammy says, “Taught me everything I know about this.” Although Jennifer recently stepped down from the organization in an official capacity, she remains synonymous with girls’ basketball locally, having “Put in so many years of hard work, and a love of the game to [build] a strong and vibrant basketball community.”
Beginning at age seven, girls who want to play basketball competitively can try out for the Rep League, which represents Brantford in Basketball Ontario-sanctioned games and tournaments in Southern Ontario and the surrounding area. The House League program, running September through February, provides an inclusive introduction to basketball with a focus on “Just having fun for the hour that they're there,” says Tammy.
Running drills while learning the skills of the sport. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
A mini net and balls for small hands are brought in to make the sport more approachable for the tiniest of athletes, like the twin three-year-olds joining this year, the daughters of former Falcons. “They'll do skills, they'll be in little teams, but they won't actually play games,” Tammy says. Instead, they’ll visit different coached stations and learn about dribbling, running, and movement. “It's just introducing them to being in a loud gym and starting basic skills,” Tammy says.
It’s not until around six-years-old that participants really start learning the game, but the emphasis is always on fun. “There's no judgement. When there's House League, everyone is cheering for everyone. And when there's Rep teams there, everyone is still cheering for everyone,” Tammy says.
Players discover that many of the lessons on the court can also be applied to other areas of their lives. “They have to learn to rely on each other. They have to learn decision making processes…a lot of the game of basketball is just making good decisions. And a lot of times too, it's just learning to trust your teammates,” Tammy says.
After leaving Brantford Girls CYO, some will go on to play basketball in University – one alum even played overseas – and many return as volunteers. “As they mature through our program, they come back and want to be the helpers, they want to come back and referee our games for us,” Tammy says, “So it becomes an entire cycle of creating this community within our organization.”
Skills learned in practice make for stronger athletes. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Although it is entirely volunteer-run, a registration fee helps cover the gym permits, but the organization won’t turn away families facing a financial barrier. “That will never be one of the factors that stands in the way of someone joining our basketball program,” Tammy says, “Sometimes this is all a girl has for the week, and we want to be that soft landing place, where she can come and enjoy herself, and just be with teammates.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professional for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.