OSBA program ready to launch at Myer (updated March 3)
The town hall meeting to discuss the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association team based out of A.N. Myer started out peacefully Monday night.
“This is just an information session for everybody in the region that wants to really know what is going on and how we are doing it,” organizer Dave Picton said.
Almost two and a half hours later, a visibly frustrated Picton stood up front a crowd of about 40-50 people wondering what the hell had just happened.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect to get bashed,” he said. “I expected this to be an information meeting to provide information about this and then say ‘Hey, is this good for the Niagara region and how do I get involved?
“That would be a great question.”
Picton described the meeting as an extension of an olive branch to all the basketball clubs in Niagara, but a number of club members at the meeting rejected the branch like a seven-footer swatting away a drive by a 5-foot-6 guard with little or no vertical jump.
Objections to the plan came for a number of different reasons. Some don’t like the program being located at A.N. Myer and believe it will take away gym time from Myer athletes and community groups that use the gym. Two people felt that there was a lack of prior consultation about the plan between the school and the Myer community and Basketball Ontario and the Niagara Falls Red Raiders. There was concern about what it would do to girls high school basketball and club programs in general. A couple of people wondered if Picton was the right person to head the program. And last but certainly not least, Picton raised the ire of some with a proposed hierarchy of girls basketball in Niagara that slotted in organizations and groups into a system headed by the OSBA program called the Niagara Girls Basketball Academy, Picton’s existing basketball organization.
Picton prefaced his comments about the hierarchy, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
“This is just a proposal,” he said. “It isn’t set in stone and don’t be mistaken that this is what it is going to be. It is a thought process but we believe it would be good for girls in the Niagara Region.”
Picton described the process as an opportunity to try and unite the Niagara Region in girls basketball.
“At the end of this day, I hope we can walk away from this presentation to start thinking about pathways and ideas for now and the future of basketball in the Niagara Region.”
By the end of the meeting, it was clear the direction of girls basketball in Niagara will likely remain the same with the exception of the addition of the OSBA team. Locals clubs will continue to protect their turf and their players, several organizations will continue to send their top players to the Niagara Falls Red Raiders’ JUEL and JUEL prep programs, people will continue to complain about what other organizations and their coaches are doing, every basketball trainer will claim that they and no one else can do it right (the truth is there are a number of great trainers in Niagara with different approaches), and no one will be lobbying for a unified approach to girls basketball in Niagara. Welcome to the reality of minor sport that is be found in whatever athletic venue kids choose to pursue.
Monday’s meeting was argumentative and ugly and did nothing to change the fact that a OSBA team is coming to A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara team will join a league that presently includes TRC Academy, Lincoln Prep, Durham Elite, King’s Christian Collegiate, Bill Crothers Secondary School, Capital Courts, Southwest Academy, Louis-Riel, Caledon Basketball Academy and Vaughan Secondary School.
“The OSBA program is a two-year program getting kids ready for university basketball. They will have all the tools and will be ready to not be surprised,” Picton said. “It is exciting to get a girl who really wants to play at the next level no matter what that level is and get them ready for that.”
The year-round program, according to Picton, will among other things provide greater exposure and periodization (systematic planning of athletic training to attain the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year).
“What this whole program is doing is trying to increase the pool of players to succeed and even drive the level of ball up in Canada at the national level, at the university level and at the college level,” Picton said. “If a girl really wants to play at a university level, I would recommend pushing her to OSBA.”
The program is not for the faint hearted.
“This program will only succeed if academics is No. 1, basketball is No. 2 and social is No. 3,” Picton said. “It is a really big thing for them to manage.”
Picton is looking for 12 players for the program and players and their parents have until Friday to give their expressions of interest in the program.
“It’s pretty quick and we understand that,” he said. “We have to find out if we are going to do this with all Niagara kids. If not, we have to get recruiting in order to make this sustainable and ready to go.”
Picton’s goal is to have an all-Niagara team.
“I would love to keep it 100 per cent Niagara kids as long as their ability is there.”
If more than 12 local players express an interest in the program, tryouts will be held.
The program won’t be cheap, but Picton urged parents at Monday’s meeting to compare it to what they pay now for travel and having their kids play with club teams.
“The cost is $6,500 and that is before any sponsorship, any fundraising, That is the top level,” he said. “It’s pretty scary, absolutely, but if you play club, calculate every tournament you have gone to as a parent.”
The program’s budget includes $25,000 for travel, food and hotels to go play in tournaments in New York, Washington and Chicago.
Picton feels the registration fee, payable in a lump sum or $6,500 or in five payments of $1,300, may be lowered through program sponsorship, individual sponsorships and team fundraising.
“That is the price for your kid to succeed,” he said.
Frank Keltos, the head coach of the Niagara JUEL team and a vice-president of the St. Catharines Rebels basketball association, questioned the value of spending that money.
“You are spending $6,500 to get a $4,500 Canadian university return back,” he said. “It’s a loss of $2,000 in high school money.”
Keltos asked how many OSBA players had landed NCAA scholarships, but no one at the meeting could give him an answer.
The OSBA had its genesis four years ago when Basketball Ontario sat down as an organization and analyzed what was being done to support basketball players who were on a high performance pathway; the top 3-5 per cent of athletes who were pursuing age group provincial teams, national teams, and NCAA and OUA scholarships.
“On the male side, we were seeing a mass exodus of the top five per cent of high school boys going down to what was termed prepatory schools in the States,” said Lindsay (Lou) Welsh, Ontario Basketball’s director of basketball development. “It was really tough for us to swallow that we were losing these athletes to the States to pursue high-performance athletics.”
The organization felt it was time to act.
“We saw this as an opportunity for us to develop what we termed the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association whose goal is to provide daily training integrated within Ontario high school system,” Welsh said. “This is an overall shift of what has been done in Ontario with respect to high school basketball.”
In other provinces, the girls high school season runs from October to March. In Ontario, girls high school basketball runs eight weeks in the fall and then players goes into club season and they maybe provincial or national seasons.
“We were asking athletes to unrealistically peak four times in a 12-month period,” Welsh said.
It was physically and physiologically impossible and it resulted in overuse injuries, lack of long-term success, burnout and players dropping out of basketball.
“These athlete were being burned out far before they needed to and it’s all because as a community we hadn’t gotten ourselves in line to work together to support the end user,” Welsh said.
Terry Thomson, past president of the Niagara Falls Red Raiders which runs the Niagara JUEL and JUEL Prep programs, gave his take on the genesis of the OSBA.
“I get the program and I get the commitment but there’s also programs called JUEL and JUEL Prep and they are not part of Basketball Ontario,” he said. “Basketball Ontario has started this as the result of JUEL and JUEL Prep because they were leaving Basketball Ontario.
“We have a prep program. We have a pathway and Dave’s pathway that he has there is the JUEL pathway. It’s not some new idea.”
Steve Lidstone, the manager of Brock’s high performance centre who will be helping out with the OSBA program, feels the program is crucial for girls looking to play at the highest levels.
“It is extremely important for these athletes to buy into this type of training now, not when they get to university and try to compete against people at that point,” he said. “It is going to be too late. They need to be trained in a systematic program They need to be trained like they would at a NCAA school.”
Lidstone has been working with the Niagara JUEL Prep team for the last year and half providing a similar program to what is being proposed for the OSBA players.
Picton described landing an OSBA team as an 18-month process. He applied last year and was turned down.
“We got accepted on all the basketball criteria but denied because the OSBA was stringent on making sure it was an academic scholastic program,” he said. “They asked us to go back to the drawing board.”
Picton met with the directors of education at the District School Board of Niagara and the Niagara Catholic District School Board and presented the proposal to both boards’ principals. The Catholic board said no and the DSBN said yes. Myer was selected to host the program.
“We had to look at what is central for kids in the Niagara Region to try and make this work,” Picton said. “We chose Myer.”
Nicole DiDomenico, a former Myer and university basketball player, said Myer’s alumnus isn’t a fan of the selection process.
“We are deeply disappointed that there has not been any consideration from us on this matter in terms of coaching, or being part of the decision-making process,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting, Myer principal Johanna Provost responded in the affirmative when asked if the OSBA program fit within the DSBN’s mandate.
“The DSBN’s mandate is to provide opportunities for students and in my opinion this is an awesome opportunity,” she said.
Provost believes Myer is the perfect host for the program.
“Myer is well-known as a school with remarkable student achievement,” she said. “We are the top high school in Niagara Falls.”
Out of 225 graduates last spring, Myer had 150 Ontario scholars and grads were awarded $240,000 in scholarship money. In athletics, four students received NCAA Division 1 scholarships for rowing, baseball and golf.
Myer’s role in the OSBA program will be simple.
“Our job is to make sure we have the academic pieces in place for the athletes,” Provost said.
What won’t be as simple is finding gym time
“Dave and I are working on that,” Provost said. “My job is to provide opportunities for students who are here at Myer and for the students who are part of the academy and will also be Myer students.”
Provost has met with number of community groups, teachers and basketball people in the last few weeks to try and figure out a way to make things work. She has also toured other OSBA locations to see how they are doing things.
“We are looking at putting together a schedule that may not look the same every day, that may be fluid, that is equitable and provides opportunity for all students at Myer,” she said.
At the meeting, Picton was adamant that no Myer teams or community groups would lose gym time, but Provost wasn’t making any guarantees.
“What I am saying to you is that there will be opportunities available to all students at Myer.”
Thomson fears the worst.
“I know what gym time is like at A.N. Myer and I know, as much as you stand up there and say it’s not going to be affected, it’s getting affected,” he said. “Myer’s teams and Myer’s players are going to get shafted for gym time. The community groups are going to get shafted for gym time. All because you are bringing in an outside agency of 12 girls.”
DiDomenico echoed these sentiments.
“If you have so much gym time, why aren’t you giving it to the Myer teams who lack enough time to train to compete with other schools?”
Thomson feels basketball players at A.N. Myer will transfer to St. Paul because of the move.
“That’s the reality of what’s going to happen to this program,” he said.
DiDomenico worries how Myer’s existing athletes will perceive the team.
“Your own athletes at Myer will be overshadowed by those who are not even from the area,” she said. “Yes they can participate in essentially what will be the B team at Myer but you are now stripping away the opportunities those people had.”
Picton countered that some of the OSBA girls programs run tripleheaders with the host schools junior and senior girls basketball teams, and that some of the business classes have taken over the social media duties for the OSBA team.
Thomson supports the concept of daily, year-round training for those who wanted, but is in favour only if it located in a private facility.
Gerry McIlhone, a basketball ref and president of the St. Catharines Rebels, was concerned what effect the OSBA will have on the high schools girls basketball landscape.
“I think they all already suffering and already struggling to have two teams,” he said. “We are looking at pretty weak basketball. It’s a rhetorical question but it won’t be good.”
Picton begged to differ.
“I think it will even out high school basketball and make it more competitive, but at a different level,” he said.
Tara Poulin, who has coached with Picton in the NGBA and runs a highly-successful high school program out of Jean Vanier, spoke in favour of the program.
“If I had that opportunity in Niagara, the sky’s the limit,” she said. “The best program is coming to Niagara and it’s not about the fact that Dave Picton is running it. It’s not about St. Catharines Rebels or Niagara Falls Red Raiders. It is about getting these high-level girls to the next step.”
She doesn’t feel JUEL, JUEL Prep or club level basketball can do that.
“I am losing three of my best kids to this, but I support it,” she said.
What was among the most divisive issues at Monday’s meetings was Picton’s proposed development model that saw teams and organizations falling into slots below the OSBA team and a proposed OSBA prep team.
A Welland Warriors coach at the meeting agreed the optics of the proposal weren’t great.
“It probably did look bad,” she said. “It wasn’t the intention we were all going to become this kind of superpower under NGBA.”
“We had a coaches meeting at Dave’s house and we talked for hours about how we see this happening.”
At the end of the meeting, Picton asked Niagara Falls Red Raiders president Mark Federinko if JUEL and JUEL Prep would be willing to work with the OSBA program.
“We would present it to our board and see, but I don’t really see a benefit with that because the JUEL and the JUEL prep programs are a pathway,” Federinko said. “I wouldn’t say the OSBA isn’t another pathway. It may or it may not be but I think the JUEL and the JUEL prep will be really affected by this. We are in direct competition with each other.”
Those in favour and opposed to the OSBA team will now have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
“This is the beginning of a real, awesome opportunity for girls, but do I have all the answers? No I don’t,” Provost said. “We have to figure out what we can do at the school to support the girls and have open communication.”
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EDITORS NOTE: Following are Facebook comments that BPSN feels add nicely to the conversation.
FACEBOOK POST FROM JOHN PILLING
The one thing I’ve noticed with the emergence of the OSBA on the girls side is that the high-end talent pool is beginning to dilute by spreading over two pathways to post secondary play. The JUEL league pumped out players for years into universities and colleges on both sides of the border and the talent in the league was unquestionably high as it represented each geographic region’s best. With OSBA teams popping up they’ve created a viable alternative, another pathway for girl players. But as a result, the JUEL league, although, still full of talented players, is not as strong throughout and has some much weaker entries. The OSBA league, as direct competition, and with a more comprehensive model of school and athletics combined with a year-round training model, has attracted many talented players.
Both models have value, but as long as they both continue to go head to head, Ontario has lost the model that had each region’s best competing against each other, because some play high school and go to JUEL teams, some are on OSBA year round teams, but they never play each other because they are both proprietary about their players and model.
There are way more issues than just this, as you so well address, but I just wanted to add that the side effect of spreading talent over two high-performance models will never ensure the province’s best players consistently play each other.
The JUEL league accomplished that for five or six best-versus-best years. Ontario Basketball, by launching a competitive alternative — and I totally get why they did it — has created the short-term side effect of two leagues competing for players, and by extension diluting the level of competition in both. Not sure that’s the worse thing in the world, as players, parents and coaches are free to choose what best suits them, and as Tara Poulin has pointed out the JUEL model sometimes left talented kids behind too early.
I’ll finish by saying, as an observer and fan of girls basketball, that the level of talent in Niagara has never been higher. The current group of Grade 9s and 10s are simply outstanding and credit for that goes to so many good coaches, many you mentioned in your article. Good luck to all these talented players as they follow their journeys. Let them choose the pathways they think are best and put in the work to take their young lives to wherever their dreams and aspirations lead them.
FACEBOOK POST FROM PAT SULLIVAN
I think it is natural for people to feel threatened by a new program. People’s first reaction to any change it is how the change will impact them and what they have worked for.
What I don’t agree with is trying to create a negative view of something instead of focusing on either working to make the change work for everyone through cooperation or simply focusing on doing your own thing to the best of your ability regardless of new programs. Clearly this (OSBA) is the most extensive and comprehensive model for elite players being offered. Whether you believe it is necessary or worth the cost should be left for parents to decide.
It makes me feel uncomfortable when people resort to simply pointing out all of the negative aspects of a program. Does everyone opposed to it not see any value or positive aspects of it? If it is so similar to what already exists then why is it so bad? It’s too bad that all of the coaches involved could not find a way to work together to establish a way of making the OSBA work within existing structures. The alternative could be an ugly war over the best players which has been the history on both the boys and girls sides. Time and energy will then need to be spent towards assembling talent as opposed to simply focusing on development.
I don’t think it’s a real stretch to have a group of coaches decide which of the options best serves the girls needs and to promote that option collectively. The other options could still serve those girls who were not quite at the level necessary or for those who may just not want to take that route.
As a high school coach at heart, I feel a sense of regret that the quality and status of high school basketball has taken a bit of a back seat but there is no sense in fighting a movement that only appears to be picking up steam and has demonstrated results. The best high school coaches and programs have continued to do what they have always done which is coach the kids in front of them to the best of their ability and provide them the best experience possible regardless of who may have left the program.
I experienced many of the same fears and reservations, including losing my best players during the rise of prep ball, but I had to take a real hard look at myself as to whose interests I would be serving by discouraging kids who could benefit from participating.
There are many outstanding coaches in Niagara, but the opportunity to work together is limited due to affiliation by school, club and region. I hope that cooler heads prevail and that some rational thought can be shared among the various stakeholders. Like in most instances in youth sport, the parents and coaches are the most challenging to manage. The kids just want to play. Ultimately parents will choose to send their kids to what they feel is the best environment for their overall development and athletic aspirations and consider the financial implications of each choice when making a decision.
If the coaches can put aside personal issues and egos, it will allow some real positive change to occur that will serve girls in Niagara of all abilities. In the world of sports, that is much easier said than done.
FACEBOOK POST FROM MARK ANTONELLI
I am glad you took the time to attend and write that article. There is an underlying issue/problem that is happening in sport throughout North America and Canada is trying to jump on that train as well. If you go to the OSBA website, there is a list of players from the eight programs who have “attended” a NCAA school as well as those who have ended up at a USport school. Assuming there are 15 players on a roster that’s 120 kids with 13 of them “attending” NCAA programs and 20 ending up at USport programs.
So I guess the program is working, but how many of those athletes had already been offered programs before attending a prep program before playing prep. The women’s league has only been in existence for one year and there could have been offers already on the table from many of those girls before they even enrolled in that program.
What concerns me is how many of these prep programs are piggy backing off of publicly funded institutions to provide a product within a building that will ultimately create a hierarchy and caste system within the school in regards to athletics.
I have no issue with a prep program and coaches starting their own program with their own private facility. If somebody wants to do so and has the cash and resources with their own facility, then all the power to them. There are some very successful ones in Ontario. The ones that could be problematic are the ones immersed in another school. The students will adhere to different rules and regulations within the building and more than likely listen to their coach or program facilitator who may not even have an accredited teaching degree or educational background.
This tells me pretty much one thing. Those coaches are getting paid and getting paid quite handsomely with taxpayers’ money to be able to spend this type of time and commitment on a program, and/or they are investing all of their time and resources providing an opportunity for their own child and making money in the process off of the other 12-14 children.
If you look at the majority of prep schools created thus far, the head coach or coach on staff has mostly had a child within the system. That to me does not equate to good developmental basketball. This happens even in club basketball and other club sports. It has been happening since the dawn of time, but now seeing coaches make money by doing this is where I raise a question on ethics behind it.
My sport of expertise is football and I am well-informed in that world, but I have two young daughters, and they are not going to play football. I look at basketball as a sport they could play. I recently tried to research an opportunity for my oldest who will be four this summer to participate in a camp or two. Nothing for her age is offered in Niagara, but there is plenty in Durham and other places in the GTA. Why is that? Why are no coaches who are extremely qualified at strengthening basketball in this region and claiming they are doing so willing to work with children at the most impressionable age between four and eight?
This article tells me pretty much three things about girls basketball in Niagara: 1) It seems to be extremely fractured, more so than I had ever completely imagined; 2) I have no idea who I can trust as a coach/parent to teach and look out for my own child’s best interests when it comes to the sport of basketball in this region because everybody is claiming that their model is the best; 3) It is going to cost me a few years worth of salary to give my children the opportunity to play at a high level if they are good enough to do so.
My suggestion to all parents is to ask questions and ask yourself if it is worth it, because 20 players in the OSBA ended up spending tons of cash only to end up at a USport school anyways: Something those 20 players were probably already good enough at making to begin with and would not have had to pay the $6500-10,000 to do so just to acquire an Ontario high school diploma.