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Not your average beer-league basketball players

Ready for action! Photo By Carl Spitzer.

Ready for action! Photo By Carl Spitzer.

Pop into the Bessborough School gym any Thursday night, and you might think you’re witnessing a typical group of middle-aged men sweating it out in beer-league basketball. But look more closely and you’ll understand that what you’re really witnessing is the essence of community.

The Leaside Basketball Association (LBA) formed in 2004 when Leasiders Jack McFadden and Laurel Neal attended a Raptors-sponsored basketball clinic for kids led by former NBAer Mitchell Wiggins at Leaside High School. Eager to gain the same basketball skills, the pair approached Wiggins to ask if he would be willing to train adults in the neighbourhood. Using the Bessborough gym as their home base, a group of Leasiders assembled, and with Wiggins’ help, the LBA was born.

The association has featured a core group of players for the majority of its 13 years, but every so often, thanks to injury or a move, a roster shift is made and players are either replaced or moved to what the league calls their “booster” squad (those who socialize with the team). The group now numbers some 20 players and 15 boosters ranging in age from the 40s to early 60s. 

Who are these players? You may know them from the neighbourhood, but would you be able to identify them by their basketball nicknames? After 13 years together, even the LBA players often forget the real names of some of their teammates – Chopper, Sea Biscuit, Kobe, Kilo, Teen Wolf, Silverado, and Kodak.

While basketball was what initially drew this group together, the social aspects of the league are what have truly cemented their relationships. After each game on a Thursday, the group often consumes more calories than expended on the court with post-game celebrations at the Leaside Pub. Other social events, to which players’ partners are invited, include an annual spring banquet where trophies are awarded as well as a formal Christmas dinner. Many other social gatherings take place throughout the year, including football games with the players’ kids. And what would a good community group be without trips to celebrate members’ birthdays? As player Mike Morin points out, the LBA is, in essence, “an over-40 frat-type support network for our middle age crisis days!”

LBAer Jamie McPhail (Sea Biscuit) and his family moved from Leaside to Texas for three years and notes, “I remember when I was in Texas that every Thursday night I’d feel like I was missing something, which I was of course.” Thankfully, the McPhails have moved back and are extremely happy to be reunited with their LBA family.

Resplendent in their Dragon uniforms, the LBA have taken their basketball skills on the road in the past few years, competing in tournaments in Guelph, Halifax, and St. John’s. This May, the group will be participating in the Dublin Masters International Tournament (Guinness factory tours and golf games have obviously already been booked).

While the group is topped out in terms of numbers, it is never topped out in the camaraderie and goodwill among members. This is a group of players and family members who began as strangers but who have grown over the years to become the closest of friends as well as partners in the community. According to Morin, “the LBA supports each other and has supported several community efforts in the past from toy drives to raising funds for groups in and outside the community. We have watched our families go through various stages of life as kids grow up and parents pass on, and in the end we are always there to support each other.”