Tigers court higher am­bi­tions

HSBC Bas­ket­ball ex­panded stu­dents’ hori­zons at in­ner- city school

Vancouver Sun - - Sports - BY YVONNE ZACHARIAS VAN­COU­VER SUN

“ I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . . .”

For the long­est time, Sir Charles Tup­per high school thought it couldn’t. It was a school of many kids without hope of ac­com­plish­ing much of any­thing.

The school is the alma mater of no­to­ri­ous gang­ster Bindy Jo­hal al­though in fair­ness, Van­cou­ver po­lice chief Jim Chu also grad­u­ated there. It was tainted by the mur­der of 17-year-old Jo­mar Lanot on school grounds in Novem­ber 2003 in what a judge de­scribed as a chill­ing act of ran­dom vi­o­lence.

Lanot was beaten to death while on his way home with three friends af­ter play­ing bas­ket­ball. A ri­val group was wait­ing in a parked car to am­bush them. Lanot stum­bled on his way, mak­ing him­self vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack.

Now like that lit­tle en­gine, the in­ner city school has been chug­ging for­ward, shrug­ging off the man­tle of de­spair. And a bud­ding bas­ket­ball pro­gram is help­ing to stoke it.

Sud­denly, young men are learn­ing that it is okay to dream big dreams. Their eyes have been opened by sport.

Coach Jeff Gourley has watched the lit­tle mir­a­cle un­fold. Ac­tu­ally, he has been a big part of it. So has the prin­ci­pal, Iona Whishaw, who is giv­ing the Tup­per Tigers her solid sup­port.

About seven years ago, Gourley, a for­mer Mar­itimer and na­tional bas­ket­ball star, stepped into Tup­per to see if he could lend his ser­vices as a vol­un­teer coach.

He started by of­fer­ing a kind of street bas­ket­ball in the gym. No hard rules. Just a lot of run­ning.

At first, no­body took the Tup­per team se­ri­ously. The only time an­other school would call them up for a game was when they needed to beat up a com­peti­tor for a pep rally.

As for tour­na­ments, for­get it. Who wants to travel to play against a team where none of the play­ers stands sixfeet tall?

But the boys and their coach worked hard. And sud­denly the va­pid shape of an idea was forged into re­al­ity. The Tup­per team had guts. It had heart and soul. Just like the totem pole erected in the front of the school in Lanot’s mem­ory, they be­gan to soar.

Five years ago, the HSBC Bas­ket­ball Clas­sic, one of the largest high school par­tic­i­pa­tory events in the coun­try, al­lowed Tup­per in. It proved a turn­ing point. The Tup­per kids got to see and play against some of the best in the sport. Oth­ers liked watch­ing the Tigers roar.

The sport ex­panded the kids’ hori­zons. When Gourley first of­fered them free tick­ets to go watch the UBC men’s bas­ket­ball team, they were re­luc­tant.

“ They don’t like leav­ing east Van­cou­ver,” ex­plained Gourley. “ It was the whole so­cio-eco­nomic thing. They weren’t comfortable. They felt out of place.” But the boys fi­nally did go to watch the UBC team play.

Be­fore all this hap­pened, so many of th­ese kids had blink­ered am­bi­tions. If you asked them what they wanted to do af­ter grad­u­a­tion, you were apt to get an an­swer like, “ Dunno. Get a job maybe.”

Team cap­tain Harpreet Man­has, who will grad­u­ate this year, flashed one of those daz­zling smiles of his.

“ I don’t want to leave high school be­cause of bas­ket­ball,” he said laugh­ing. “ That’s the rea­son I like high school. I come to school for bas­ket­ball.” Ev­ery year, he likes how the team comes to­gether. “ It’s a sec­ond fam­ily.”

Man­has fig­ures his ex­pe­ri­ence as cap­tain will help him in the busi­ness world. Can’t hurt to put it on a re­sume.

“ It’s good just lead­ing the guys.” He tries to in­te­grate the new play­ers on the team, to keep every­one calm and work­ing to­gether. “ We don’t want any fights within the squad.”

When 17-year-old Ivan Yaco moved to Canada from the Philip­pines, he didn’t speak a word of English. Now he is soar­ing both on and off the court. He has be­come one of the best shoot­ers in the prov­ince and is scor­ing high grades in most of his sub­jects. Gourley cred­its bas­ket­ball and the nine-year-old Clas­sic for help­ing to mo­ti­vate him.

That’s be­cause awards and schol­ar­ships handed out at the mega tour­na­ment are not just based on ath­leti­cism but take into ac­count aca­demics and com­mu­nity in­volve­ment.

“ Bas­ket­ball is my pas­sion,” Yaco said. “ I fell in love with it and I just can’t stop play­ing the game.”

He loves the Clas­sic be­cause he gets to play against strong op­po­nents. “ It makes me bet­ter. I can show my game.”

Af­ter high school, he wants to get a de­gree in crim­i­nal jus­tice and be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer.

James Lum is not only one of the f i n e s t ba s ke t ba l l pl aye rs in th e prov­ince; he is also the No. 1 stu­dent at Tup­per. He cred­its Gourley with mo­ti­vat­ing him to get se­ri­ous about the game.

“ He re­ally pushed me. He made me try out for a lot of dif­fer­ent pro­grams and pro­vin­cial teams. At first, I got cut from a lot of them but then it just made me more mo­ti­vated.”

Lum has been on the na­tional team for a cou­ple of years now. Dur­ing the Lower Main­land play­offs last year, he av­er­aged an amaz­ing 41 points per game. Even though he was in Grade 10 and a ju­nior player last year, he av­er­aged 30 points a game. “ He is a spec­tac­u­lar young man,” said Gourley.

Lum has had a goal. He wants to take Tup­per to the pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onships. That hasn’t hap­pened yet but that’s not what is most im­por­tant. Set­ting goals is what mat­ters.

The coach ad­mits the game hasn’t clicked with every­one. There are so many dis­trac­tions such as girl­friends, video games, school. And it isn’t an elite team al­though it has made it into the Lower Main­land’s cham­pi­onships for each of the past seven years and won 23 games last year.

Gourley be­lieves it has helped the school turn a cor­ner. You won’t see that in the Fraser In­sti­tute rank­ings for good rea­son. Only 18 per cent of stu­dents speak English at home and the school has the sec­ond high­est spe­cial needs pop­u­la­tion in the prov­ince. But it has been ranked as one of the safest schools by the Van­cou­ver School Board and the min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion. Nearly half its stu­dents are in­volved in ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, a much higher level than in most in­ner city schools.

Things are looking up. Some like Gourley think that a mere bas­ket­ball ball and a hoop can change lives. He has seen it him­self.

Go Tigers.

WARD PERRIN/ VAN­COU­VER SUN

Harpreet Man­has ( left), Ivan Yaco, and James Lum have their game face on for the up­com­ing tour­na­ment. Charles Tup­per coach Jeff Gour­ley has helped widen the youths’ hori­zons by in­tro­duc­ing them to bas­ket­ball.

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