In the gym at the Victoria School of the Arts in Edmonton—which is about 3,300 km west of Toronto, the centre, right now, of the Canadian basketball universe — junior high basketball player Akira Xaysana stood in the key, and, with a more than a hundred spectators watching, put a lovely arc on a free throw and….
The crowd erupted. Xaysana’s face switched from determination to jubilation.
Among those cheering the loudest were Miranda Ayim and her teammates on Canada’s Senior Women’s National Basketball Team.
“That shot was really exciting because she missed the first two shots and took the third one and the crowd was getting excited and then she made it and everybody erupted and they were cheering and were so excited,” said Ayim, now in her 10th summer with the national team.
“With a free throw, it seems like a simple shot, but it’s one of the most difficult shots in the game because everybody’s looking at you, you’re all alone.”
For six years, Edmonton has been homebase for the women’s national team. They train here. They do community outreach here. They build basketball here.
“Getting the chance to have them come here and help us get better is great,” said Xaysana, who wears #12 for Vic.
Watch more from the national team’s skill- and history-building visit to Victoria School earlier this week here:
For the City of Edmonton, the workshop at Victoria School drives home one of the prime advantages of the sponsorship deal to have the women’s team here. It’s not only about sport at the highest level, it’s about everyone living active.
“Above all, this is about the good things that happen in a community when children are active in sports and are taught by role models in a safe and friendly environment,” said Roger Jevne, Branch Manager, Community and Recreation Facilities with the City of Edmonton. “These athletes are great role models for all of us, but especially for girls and young women.”
“As well, when we’re on the map like this, no matter what sport it is, we can work to attract new events and tournaments,” Jevne said. “They build excitement that keeps the game going in neighbourhoods across the city for years into the future.”
The $500,000/year sponsorship agreement between the City of Edmonton and Canada Basketball also provides earmarked money—$50,000—to plan and deliver basketball programs for young Edmontonians, including those who live with risk. The program is overseen by Alberta Basketball.
Having the women’s team here helps build the future, and build on the past.
Edmonton has a rich basketball history, headlined by the storied Edmonton Grads. The team won the first women’s world championship in basketball in 1924. As Wikipedia reports, the Grads swept four straight Olympic Games from 1924 to 1936, winning every game they played. Women’s basketball supremacy went unrecognized on the medal podium until the sport became an official Olympic sport in 1976 in Montreal.
The Grads are immortalized in a park in their name in Edmonton’s Westmount neighbourhood and in statues on Alberta Avenue.
Maybe not quite as gripping in quite the same way as watching the Toronto Raptors go for the NBA championship, but, still, very real, very vintage Edmonton.
“We’re very happy the Raptors are in the spotlight right now, because it not only gives us a chance to come together and cheer as a country, but it also lets us tell the story of our local basketball past, present and future,” said Paul Sir, Alberta Basketball’s executive director.