Tigers court higher ambitions
HSBC Basketball expanded students’ horizons at inner- city school
“ 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.
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.