Basketball High Schools

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Jaz Balan takes her leadership skills to York U basketball

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.

St. Peter Knights/Gloucester Wolverines Elite basketball player Jaz Balan. Photo provided

By Martin Cleary

Whether pulling down a huge rebound on the basketball court or happily walking the halls of St. Peter Catholic High School, Jaz Balan gives the presence of a leader.

As Balan comes to the end of her accomplished high school academic and athletic careers, she can reflect on her time as student council co-president as well as committing as a student-athlete to attend York University.

A past Principal’s Award winner for leadership and an honour-roll student for all four years, Balan will charge into a new challenge in 2021-22, studying psychology and playing in the Lions women’s basketball program.


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While her Knights’ fall high school basketball season and community games with the Wolverines Elite of the Gloucester-Cumberland Basketball Association were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, she kept busy with a new role.


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For the first time in her stay at St. Peter, she was a member of the student council. And she didn’t hold just any position. She was co-president. Maybe she was destined, since she was ‘Prime Minister’ of her Grade 8 class.

“I’ve always wanted to be student council president for many reasons,” Balan wrote in an email interview. “First, I had always wanted the opportunity to be able to listen to the opinions, ideas and concerns of my peers and try to turn them into a change for the better.

“Secondly, as my grade got older and older, I noticed that we started to participate less and less in school activities and I wanted to change that. Also, with COVID getting worse and worse, I wanted to take on the challenge of trying to maintain that St. Peter energy even though we were going to be distanced.”

The pandemic cancelled all sports and almost all traditional events at St. Peter as students studied in class or online, making it “quite difficult to plan and organize activities this year.”

But Balan and her council members forged ahead and played host to “spirit weeks, game ‘knight’ fundraisers and Christmas raffle baskets.” Motivational Monday and Wellness Wednesday postings also helped the students.

Balan, a 6-0 forward, hasn’t played a competitive game since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic cancelled the critical part of her 2019-20 Wolverines Elite season, all of the 2020-21 games and her 2020-21 Knights campaign.

“Basketball was always a way to disconnect from the stresses of school and just have fun with your team. We would travel almost every weekend and form unbreakable bonds,” she noted.

“We would do team bonding activities together, have fun at the hotel and get to play the game we all love together. All of that was gone so suddenly. It’s also hard knowing how much my coach had planned for our team – all the goals we had as a team, and the ones we had personally as well.”

The free time caused by the pandemic did allow Balan an opportunity for more relaxation, reading and time with family. But she also had to stay fit and work on improving her basketball skills with university coming soon.

On the basketball court, Balan has won a variety of MVP and all-star awards as well as team tournament medals for the Knights and the Wolverines. As a Knight, she has received the Coaches Award in basketball and touch football.

Balan helped the Wolverines to a 19-0 record, including three tournament victories, before the 2019-20 season was stopped by the pandemic. She also was named team MVP at the end of her Elite season.

St. Peter Knights/Gloucester Wolverines Elite basketball player Jaz Balan. Photo provided

Canadian university basketball coaches were well aware of Balan, but she elected to commit to York because the team continued to keep her informed.

“They showed constant interest, continuously answered by questions and tended to my needs,” she wrote. “They even organized extra meetings with university staff and teammates to help me make my decision.”

Balan, who aspires to be a human rights lawyer, has learned two valuable lessons from the pandemic: “never take things for granted, and how to take care of my well-being.”

Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.

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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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