By Martin Cleary
When Ottawa Elite basketball players Sheridan Keen and Grace Tongue are immersed in a game, they are focused and energized about their multiple assignments.
Playing in the Ontario-based JUEL girls’ high-performance league, Keen is passionate about the game as a tenacious guard/small forward.
Tongue is right there with her, showing her attacking style as a shooting guard, as well as her athleticism and determination.
But once the game ends, they walk off the court and reconnect with the other fascinating and fulfilling aspects of their teenage lives.
A Grade 12 student at St. Mother Teresa High School, Keen, 18, is an admired junior youth worker at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. She’s dedicated to having young girls learn about basketball through clinics and various programs.
Tongue, 17, is a 92-per-cent student at Colonel By Secondary School and when she’s not studying or shooting a basketball, she’s filling the rest of her schedule with a variety of volunteer roles to help her community.
At the season-ending JUEL basketball tournament awards ceremony last weekend at the University of Guelph, Keen and Tongue not only helped Ottawa Elite to a seventh-place finish, but also they each received a major award from the league reflecting their skills on and off the court.
Keen won the Community Service Award for her enthusiastic dedication to serving at BGCO and her previous work in an Ottawa policing youth program.
Tongue received the Fred Dunbar Award (formerly the Commissioner’s Award) for combining her academic excellence, non-stop and diverse community work and her desire to become a better basketball player.
“I was shocked,” Keen said in a phone interview Wednesday about hearing her name called as an award winner. “I was really excited because there were times at the start of our season I had to skip practices because of work.
“It was nice to receive the award to show my coach Dave Malowski that what I was doing in the community was not all fluff. I skipped practice to help my community.”
Malowski was proud of Keen receiving an award that “recognizes a fine young lady, who (not only) understands how fortunate she is, but also how important it is to recognize and help those less fortunate.”
Keen started learning those lessons before she began school. She remembers her mother, Ottawa Police Services Platoon Sgt. Maria Keen, taking her and her sister to the Boys and Girls Club on Dumaurier Avenue to see how other children live in Ottawa.
That motivating moment has been with Keen for close to 15 years. Two years ago, she was accepted into the Ottawa Police Services’ Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI). More than 400 teenagers applied for 25 positions, which was down from the normal 100 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keen, who has been accepted into the police studies program at Georgian College in Barrie, also won the YIPI Joanna Sheppard Award for her leadership and passionate work in the community.
Eighteen months ago, Keen was hired by BGCO as a junior youth worker. She turned her attention to introducing a basketball program for teenage girls and serving as a female role model.
“The girls were devastated when I told them I’ll be going to Georgian (in September),” Keen said. “They see me as an older sister.”
Keen praises her mother for showing her the importance of linking with the community.
“She took us out all the time to community things. I wanted to help others, but I didn’t know how. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube documentaries about policing. It’s fascinating what people do,” she added.
“When I hit high school… I wanted to educate people more about policing services.”
Tongue said she wasn’t always a 90-per-cent-plus student in high school, but once she learned to organize her busy life of basketball, school and volunteerism, she moved ahead academically.
“In Grade 9, I was a good student, but I wasn’t in the 90s,” she explained in a phone interview. “I didn’t know how to organize myself. I didn’t know how to balance everything.
“I was able to build those skills throughout the years. From Grade 9 to now, I’ve got to know myself more. I have a calendar and I’m really organized. I set times to focus on school and I knew when I was practising.”
There are few minutes that aren’t accounted for in Tongue’s busy life. She is happily following in the footsteps of her parents Antonio and Alphonsine Tongue, who moved to Canada from Cameroon in 2000 and have been active members of their community.
Grace Tongue has served as a volunteer with nine school, church and community groups. All Ontario high school students must have 40 hours of documented volunteer hours before graduation, but Tongue’s bottom line is approaching 500 hours.
“For me, I don’t look at the amount of things I do. I go day by day. There are so many things to do. What can I do to help my community?” she asks. “Everything I do is because I have the opportunity. I want to make sure I use my time effectively.”
Tongue has worked at a retirement home, started a Christian youth group during the pandemic at Groupe des jeunes de St-Gabriel and served as an assistant coach of the Gloucester-Cumberland Wolverines boys’ U15 basketball team.
She is co-president of the Colonel By Startline Club for Christian students and was one of the mentors in the school’s LINK Crew Leadership Program for welcoming 300 Grade 9 students last September.
But one of the most rewarding volunteer roles for Tongue, who speaks English, French and Spanish, is tutoring Grade 9-12 Colonel By students in math, science and French. She gives extra assistance to 30 students.
“My friends ask me for help. At the end, they say thank you and they get better marks. I’m able to help. What’s amazing is I love that feeling,” said Tongue, who is motivated to see her friends, siblings and classmates achieve their goals.
Although Tongue, who will attend the University of Ottawa in 2022-23 to study health sciences, sent in a thorough application for the Fred Dunbar Award, she never expected to win it.
“I heard my name and I said ‘there’s no way,’ I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless. I think of the year I had and realized I’ve done a lot this year,” she recalled about winning the award. “You deserve it.”
Malowksi is equally impressed with Tongue’s performance in the classroom.
“Grace is an incredibly strong academic student, who excels due to her work ethic and desire to be her best,” he wrote in an email interview. “It is no surprise that Grace has won the Fred Dunbar Award. Grace is a high achiever, who does not settle for anything but being her best.”
GLEBE CAPTURES BRONZE MEDAL AT OFSAA GIRLS’ AAA RUGBY
The Glebe Gryphons girls’ rugby team completed its season Wednesday winning the bronze medal at the OFSAA AAA high school provincial championship tournament in Kitchener.
The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association champions defeated Oakville Trafalgar 19-7 in the third-place match. Glebe finished the provincial high school championship with three wins and one loss.
Ashbury’s Alex Zhang earned the lone local medal for the national capital association at the three-day OFSAA tennis championships in Toronto.
Zhang won his first three boys’ singles matches in the open division championship draw, but lost 8-2 to eventual runner-up and top-seeded Matthew Overvelde of CISAA in the semifinals.
After the loss, Zhang was folded into the consolation semifinals, where he defeated J.T. Langlois 8-3. In the consolation final, Zhang lost 8-6 to Ilya Ziborov.
The OFSAA tennis website didn’t show if Zhang won the bronze medal for third place or the antique bronze medal for fourth.
Gisèle-Lalonde’s Noor Nabaa reached the open girls’ singles quarterfinals in the championship draw. After winning her first two matches, she lost in the quarters 8-4.
Gavin Maule and Rui Jin of Ashbury won five of their seven high school division boys’ doubles matches and reached the consolation final, losing 8-5.
In the open division boys’ doubles, Pavel Ofitserov and Will Adamson of Earl of March qualified for the consolation semifinals, but lost 8-6. Anna Weinstein and Paris Axam of Glebe were high school division girls’ doubles consolation quarterfinalists, dropping their final match 8-4.
St. Joseph Jaguars won one of its three games at the two-day OFSAA East Regional baseball championship in Toronto.
The Jaguars opened with a 9-6 victory over St. Michael’s of Kemptville, but lost to Oshawa’s Maxwell Heights 7-3 and Father Redmond of Toronto 12-2.
St. Joseph are scheduled to play an additional game Thursday morning against St. Michael’s, but declined to play a mid-afternoon game against St. Maximilian Kolbe of Aurora.
TITLE CHASE ENDS IN SEMIFINALS FOR DABROWSKI, PEERS
Third-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and Australia’s Jonathan Peers lost their mixed doubles semifinal at the Roland Garros tennis championship (formerly the French Open) in Paris.
Dabrowski, who was aiming to reach her third Grand Slam mixed doubles final, and Peers were defeated by the second-seeded team of Wesley Koolhof of The Netherlands and Ena Shibahara of Japan 6-3, 6-4.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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.
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