Sean McCarron, a teacher and coach at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Whitehorse, has been organizing an informal spring basketball league for students for more than a decade.
The league brings together about 60 to 80 students from 4 p.m to 6 p.m every Friday to play weekly tournaments after school.
The league’s season typically runs for two months — from the beginning of April to the end of May.
The league, which was formerly known as the Vanier Basketball League and now as the Crusader Basketball League after the school’s name was changed from Vanier Catholic Secondary School to St. Francis of Assisi, started as a two division intramural lunchtime league with a pro-level for Grades 10 to 12 and then a D-league for Grades 8 to 10. Grade 12 students are selected as captains in the league.
“The motivation initially was just to have kids play basketball during lunch hours. Give them something to do at lunch time,” McCarron said. “We used to host it on the outside courts and draw about eight teams total; teams of four and we’d play 3v3 or 4v4. We’d be happy with 30 to 40 competitors total.”
With over 80 players from Grade 8 to 12 signing up, McCarron knew the lunch-break duration wouldn’t be enough to accommodate the league sessions. A few years later, the league was moved to after school hours on Friday each week.
“The league is a way to see kids from all the grades and multiple schools interact and play together,” McCarron said. “We try to keep them playing and it’s something to look forward to every week. I try to build some hype around it and use my Instagram to promote it.”
McCarron, who has been a teacher at the school since 1999, said he wants to get the students to play and build good healthy habits.
“It’s just the celebration of the game,” he said, adding that many of the players have built confidence in their games during the league’s seasons.
McCarron said one objective is to “simply give players the chance to play with a bit less structure. We don’t coach them during these games so it’s up to them to coach themselves.”
“It’s strictly just a school league we put together,” he said.
Preparation for the league typically starts in early April each year with McCarron putting out a call for interest including posters on social media to promote it and get kids interested.
“You just have to show interest,” he said. “I look at the number of [registrants] and if I have room, I invite kids from other schools. This year I invited a number of boys that I helped coach during the Arctic Winter Games.”
There is also the girls’ division known as the Crusader Women Basketball League (CWBL) who are mostly from F.H. Collins Secondary School.
Last year, McCarron sent out invitations to girls’ at other schools in the city to participate in the league. About 15 to 20 girls signed up for the league.
Students from F.H. Collins, CSSC Mercier and Porter Creek Secondary schools showed up and registered to participate in the league. A little more than half of the CWBL members played for Team Yukon at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Wood Buffalo earlier this year.
Mike Gallant, another teacher at the school, helps McCarron coach the girls’ division. Four other teachers assist McCarron to organize the league.
During each week’s game, Jordan Keats, a DJ and former student of the school, plays non-stop music for two hours to entertain the kids and keep the atmosphere lively.
There is a weekly tournament winner in the league. At the end of the league’s season in May, the team that is the most consistent, will have their name and team captain’s name on the trophy. But McCarron said that’s secondary to the love of sports and building skills.
“We keep track of the wins and losses and determine the top two teams playing a final which is the last game of the night,” he said.
The league has been running since 2011, but was disrupted for two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2022, the league returned.
McCarron, who was an assistant with the Yukon men’s basketball team that won gold at the AWG, said students keep coming back and look forward to the spring league.
“It’s a lot less pressured than the Arctic Winter Games or their high school seasons,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity to get kids from Grades 8 to 12 in the gym together, watching each other and cheering each other.”
McCarron said there is often also an all-star game featuring alumni of the school who play with current students during lunch or after school. The alumni usually play against the Grades 11 and 12. However, this doesn’t happen every year and largely depends on the school calendar.
“The former students play the role of mentors and leaders,” he said. “The biggest motivation is just being able to see the older guys and girls cheering on the eighth and ninth [graders] as they play. At some point in the future, they may choose to play in bigger leagues.”
McCarron said they are trying to build role models out of the kids and play the game the way it should be played and develop the spirit of sportsmanship.
“The teachers and coaches are there just to support, monitor and make sure they are playing respectfully,” he said. “We just want it to be fun and healthy, competitive at the same time. We don’t want to see trash talk or bravado. Making great passes, shots and plays says enough on the court and that’s what we want to see from our athletes.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at firstname.lastname@example.org