HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
In the world of mathematics, two negatives make a positive. It’s much the same in the world of sports. Here’s a perfect example of that math logic applied to the world of basketball.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned youth basketball, like many sports, into a frustrating environment of no games, with closed school gyms, infrequent practice sessions, and lost opportunities to develop friendships and learn about teamwork.
Former OUA women’s basketball player Tyra Blizzard of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees certainly knows the frustrations of those young boys and girls. She was planning to play pro basketball this season before the pandemic got in the way.
Well, there you have the two negatives for our basketball math moment. So how do we get a positive solution from these two trying situations? That’s where the Ottawa Shooting Stars organization takes centre court.
The 2020 competitive season was cancelled along with the spring/summer introduction-to-basketball programs, and training was limited to twice per week (when lockdown didn’t also bar in-gym sessions), so the Shooting Stars stepped forward with virtual training.
The Shooting Stars approached Blizzard and asked if she would put the bounce back in the lives of young basketball players by bringing the game to them as an instructor through regular Zoom sessions.
Since early January, Blizzard has been training two age groups, six times a week (Monday through Thursday) and for one-hour sessions at a time. The virtual training is free and open to all basketball players in the city.
Each Zoom session has been well attended with 25-30 players bringing a ball and having a small space for related drills and general fitness. Even though gym practices have resumed with restrictions, the virtual training will continue.
“It has worked better than anticipated,” said Shooting Stars’ president Derek Firth. “Our numbers have not dropped off and we continue to grow. It’s a testament (to Blizzard’s) ability to connect to the kids.
“We reached out to her. I’ve known her through basketball and have seen her as an instructor. She trained in human kinetics and is an expert in movement, strength and conditioning.”
Blizzard played her fifth and final year of university basketball with the Gee-Gees in 2019-20, starting 20 of 22 regular-season games and averaging 28.4 minutes, 9.8 points and 2.9 rebounds a game, while shooting 33 per cent.
From 2015-19, she was a 5-7 guard for the University of Windsor Lancers, which posted a 95-37 OUA regular-season record. In that time, she won two bronze medals with the Lancers at the provincial championships and was named an OUA all-star in 2018.
Firth added the Shooting Stars have received “fantastic feedback” from parents about the virtual-training sessions as they not only have improved the players’ skills, but also dealt with the mental challenges presented by COVID-19.
“It has been extremely challenging. It’s huge that we have not had a normal season and a huge loss for the kids,” Firth said. But from all those negatives came a positive as the Shooting Stars recruited Blizzard, who has connected with today’s youth.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.