Assiginack All Stars train with all stars

Grace Pennie, background, and Andrew Cooper, foreground, perfect their jumpshots while members of the Sudbury Five offer their advice during a recent visit to Assiginack Pubic School. photos by Warren Schlote

MANITOWANING – Several Assiginack All Stars got the chance to meet and play against all stars of a different kind when three members of the Sudbury Five professional basketball team visited an after-school program to show the students some new skills and improve their mastery of the home court.

“I was so surprised to see them; it was a real awesome experience,” said Grade 8 student Brodie Harasym, one of the 16 students who is enrolled in the six-week program. “It’s a good way to keep getting exercise and develop our skills in basketball.”

The basketball players’ arrival was intended as a surprise for the children, though organizers had to contact parents in advance to clear their permission for the many cameras that were present during the hour-long workshop.

Once a week for six weeks, Noojmowin Teg Healthy Living Youth Program co-ordinator Mark Peltier and Assiginack events co-ordinator Jackie White have visited Assiginack Public School (APS) to run their basketball program that is designed to be inclusive of students of all skill levels. They run six sports programs throughout the year and each focuses on a different game. The partnership between Noojmowin Teg and Assiginack has been going strong for five years.

“We’ve been doing a basketball workshop for years and had Laurentian University coaches here in the past,” said Mr. Peltier. “The Sudbury Five are now into their second season with the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC).”

The Sudbury Five is the newest addition to the relatively new league. The NBLC was founded in 2011 with seven teams. The Sudbury Five became the eighth team to join the league, whose host cities are split evenly between Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Sudbury’s team is a division of Sudbury Wolves Sports and Entertainment Group.

Head coach and general manager Logan Stutz came to the workshop alongside shooting guard/small forward Georges Serresse and forward Brady Skeens. Mr. Stutz said the team has done a fair bit of outreach since its inception, though many of the efforts have been closer to Sudbury.

“It’s nice to get out to the surrounding communities who have been so supportive,” said Mr. Stutz. “We’ve been so embraced by every community we’ve been to. Being able to give back feels good.”

The excitement was evident when the students walked into the gym to see the giant players towering before them. Several broke into wide grins as they grabbed their basketballs and began to spread out around the court.

“The kids always listen to Mark and I when we run the workshops, but today they’re absolutely silent, you could hear a pin drop,” said Ms. White. “The township is thrilled to partner with Noojmowin Teg because of the opportunities they help give to the kids in our community.”

The afternoon began with a safety check and warmup exercises, followed by a focus on ball control and a series of agility drills that had the students jumping, scuttling and recovering from a knocked-down position.

They then turned to a round of dribble tag, where the students had to dodge the professionals while maintaining control of the bouncing basketball. Finally, they moved into shooting drills and then a round of two-on-two and three-on-two basketball before pausing for a quick question-and-answer round.

Ms. White said the workshops can be motivational for students because the guest speakers Mr. Peltier brings in often share stories of how they achieved their athletic goals, even if they might have faced challenges in their school days.

“It gives them that exposure to things they might not get otherwise,” she said.

Following the on-court session, the students received an educational nutrition break from Noojmowin Teg staff before parting ways.

“It was very cool. I didn’t know any basketball teams but I learned there was this team in Sudbury,” said Grade 5 participant Sebastian Mara, who added that his favourite part of the day was the tag game. He said when he gets old enough, he plans to try out for the school’s basketball team.