As we begin the march toward the Canada Summer Games in Ontario this August, we celebrate the fact that major multi-sport games competitions have returned.

It looked rather dicey over the past couple of years as to whether they would happen again.

Welp, wallop. Here they come and they will be coming fast and furious. Mazel tov to all who have the job of making sure it comes together. I know you’ll do a great job, even if it means you’ll be running on fumes come the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Halifax.

There’s something else to celebrate when it comes to the Canada Summer Games: a girls basketball team representing the NWT. Yes, it will be the first time since 2013 that the territory will send a team on the female side and it will be an actual team, not some cobbled together unit with the nine or so that showed up at tryouts.

No, those days are thankfully, hopefully, behind us. The days of practically begging girls to show up and play, the promise of a trip to represent the NWT being a dangling carrot — yes, I remember those days. I’ve been around long enough. So why didn’t we have a team for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, you ask? For the aforementioned reason: not enough payers.

When the coaching staff was putting the team together, they had a grand total of six athletes committed. Now, they could have taken that half-dozen to Winnipeg (only need five on the court at once) and played. But the results in past Games with larger teams weren’t anything special to write home about. Did you honestly think having a team with a largess of one substitute on the bench would magically right the ship?

One serious injury and there goes your bench. One girl fouls out of a game and there goes your bench and when you have players as exhausted as they would have been, that probably wouldn’t have taken very long. It would have been an absolute fool’s errand to essentially send six girls out on the court like lambs to slaughter.

Now, you may think I’m insulting whoever was on the team. Far from it. It’s reality. Tournament sports is a much different animal than a regular season. A regular season provides a chance for healing of injuries, proper chalk talk, more time on court to work on deficiencies, etc. When you have as many as five games in a bang-bang-bang-bang-bang formation, those turned ankles and bruised arms and whatever other maladies obtained over the course of a rapid-fire event don’t exactly bounce back too well.

The decision was made to call it off and have just the boys hit the court that year. It was a decision I’m sure was not taken lightly because who wants to make that call? I remember phoning around shortly thereafter to anyone who had skin in the game on the girls side expecting there to be absolute condemnation at the nerve of excluding girls from playing. I found the opposite. Everyone I spoke to was disappointed but understood why the decision was made and it was now time to make sure that didn’t happen again.

People looked at GO (Girls Only) Basketball as an answer but that was, for all intents and purposes, a learn-to-play module. There was also the Diamonds program, which focused on U13 and U15 players, a great feeder into the high performance program. Those players were still a bit too young. Not impossible for them to make the team, mind you, but you would potentially be asking 12-year-olds to go up against 17-year-olds at the national level, should it come to that. Need I explain?

In short, a lot of little things happened to make girls basketball in Yellowknife and, by extension, the NWT a big thing. People like Aaron Wells, Tobi Taylor-Dusome, Cygni Brown, Melissa Bard, Shaun Doherty, Tara Bromley, Tina Locke-Setter, Cole Marshall, Damien Healy and a host of others (a special mention to former coach Tony Choi for helping look after my oldest daughter during her time in Steve Nash Youth Hoops) made it all happen.

And even better are the players who have now gone on to the collegiate level. Players such as Hayley Tait, Meadow Munroe and Mali Straker have shown that it isn’t impossible to move up to that next level. Straker, in fact, was part of the first Canada Summer Games girls camp at St. Pat’s Gymnasium last weekend. She’s eligible to play by virtue of the NWT being allowed to carry up to five (one-year) overage players on the roster.

Far be it for me to tell Wells, head coach of the girls team, who to select for his team but I feel extremely confident in suggesting that Straker be on the final roster of 12.

So it would appear girls basketball is alive, well and very healthy. Let’s hope it stays there because 2017 should never happen again.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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