‘At the end of the day, you’re a ball player’
Alannah Yates is the only girl playing on a boys’ high school basketball team in Hamilton
ALANNAH YATES LOVES being a point guard. But she also loves making a point:
“That it doesn’t matter whether you’re a girl or a boy; at the end of the day you’re a ball player.”
Yates is exactly that for the Sherwood Saints senior boys’ basketball team. The Grade 12 student was facing her final season of high school without basketball because she’d stopped playing club rep hoops and rep soccer in order to concentrate on her studies, and then had the senior girls’ team at Sherwood fold underneath her in the autumn when there weren’t enough players.
But Chris Thomaidis, the teacher who carried the unusual dual portfolio of coaching both the Saints girls’ and boys’ teams, made the suggestion, which turned around her graduating year.
“He came to me and said, ‘I want you to come out and play for the boys,’” she says. “I want to thank him for that. It was a huge opportunity for me, and it made me a better player. I had lost my confidence in ball a while ago, and he brought it back.”
High school rules say female athletes can play
on a boys’ team if they can make the roster, but Thomaidis says in his 20 years of coaching boys, “I’ve never had a girl on the team and never coached against a girl on the other team.
“She’s one of the better players in the city, and I thought it was a good opportunity for her to come out and play. She’s got that drive.
“I’ve had more coaches congratulate me, and her, too, for taking on that challenge, which you don’t see very often.”
As Thomaidis sees it, a welcome “sign of the times” is that there has been little or no buzz about Yates playing, no negative reactions from her teammates, opponents, nor fans at her games, and that the other Saints, all boys, have all been encouraging and spend extra time working with her.
Yates is the first to admit that she doesn’t star in the boys’ game, as she did in the girls’ (she was in the city girls’ all-star game despite not playing in the league), but she holds her own and has earned an invitation from Mohawk College to play there next season.
Against Westdale last week and in Monday’s playoff win over Sir John A. Macdonald Chiefs, she didn’t score but didn’t look out of place, “and was great on defence and got a lot of assists,” Thomaidis said.
“It’s been amazing,” Yates said. “It’s made me better as an athlete and, lately, I have been starting games. The boys’ game is a lot faster, but it makes me more aware of the court. And there are definitely things I shouldn’t be doing in guys’ basketball that I do in girls’. I can’t do cross-court passing because, 99 per cent, they’re huge and they pick it off. And they’re quicker on the first step.”
At Sherwood, Yates has starred in senior and junior girls’ basketball and volleyball, and she also helped Sherwood win a pair of Division II soccer titles. She’s also played tennis, ran track and is a member of the student council.
That affinity for sport came from having an older sister (Jessica) who plays basketball, and a childhood of playing games with and against boys in neighbourhood school yards. One of them was her lifelong friend, Brandon Bahoric, now, unexpectedly, a fellow Saints guard.
“So when people are like, ‘Are you nervous?’ I say, ‘This is what I grew up doing.’”
But she does confess to some early apprehension about how she would be received by her team and outsiders. “Even my mom expected some kind of negativity, but everyone’s been so positive. That’s what I want. I was nervous about whether I’d be accepted, and that’s not an issue. That is huge.
“I was expecting so much more (negativity) but I was ready for it. I didn’t care because I was playing ball. This is my last year and I’m going out with a bang.”
Yates says she’s proud of what she’s doing, and loves to watch the faces of the fans and opponents on the road, as they slowly realize there’s a girl on the court.
And she’s mindful that Thomaidis had the original idea, gave her the personal support and seized a teaching moment. “He’s educating everyone,” Yates says. “It’s not only showing me something and proving something to me; it’s proving something to everyone: that you can do it. You need that right person to believe in you … and he believes in me.”
Alannah Yates plays for the Sherwood Saints senior boys’ basketball team, who won their first-round playoff game Monday.
Alannah Yates says she was concerned about whether she would be welcomed by her boys’ team. “Even my mom expected some kind of negativity, but everyone’s been so positive. That’s what I want. I was nervous about whether I’d be accepted, and that’s not an issue. That is huge.”