New Maritime basketball league hopes to keep women on the court

The Maritime Women’s Basketball Association (MWBA) was created for people like Ellen Hatt.

Hatt, 25, from Halifax, completed her four-year run on the Acadia women’s basketball team in 2019.

Graduation, however, brought an abrupt end to his basketball career.

“It was such an identity for me. But there was no other space for me to go and play,” Hatt said.

Enter the MWBA, an amateur league founded by former Basketball New Brunswick President Brad Janes.

About two years after its conception, MWBA ​​play is set to begin on Saturday with six teams from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia all heading to the field at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton.

Hatt’s team, the Halifax Thunder, will play the first game in league history against the Moncton Mystics at 2 p.m. ET. The season runs until the last weekend in June, when the playoffs take place at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

Hatt said there was “no doubt” in her mind when the Thunder, which also has a competitive high school travel team she played on, added an MWBA ​​team she would join.

Additionally, the league is filling this basketball gap that it has been missing for three years.

“It gives women a place to keep playing because we see that a lot in sports where there aren’t those other ways for women to keep developing,” Hatt said.

League born thanks to the Zoom call

Early in the pandemic, Janes joined a Zoom call hosted by a local coach that featured a Q&A with then-Canada women’s national team coach Lisa Thomaidis.

“One of the questions was how can Canada continue to move up the world rankings? Janes remembers. “And Lisa said, ‘We’re the only top-ranked FIBA ​​nation that doesn’t have a national pro league. And that really stood out.”

And so Janes started jotting stuff down on “the back of a napkin.” He contacted Thomaidis separately as well as Canada Basketball Women’s Performance Director Mike Mackay and Canadian Elite Basketball League Commissioner Mike Morreale.

One of Janes’ earliest realizations was that a professional league was financially untenable for him.

“We’ve always said we want to run this league professionally, but it’s a strictly amateur league,” he said.

To that end, he said each team will have a budget of around $10,000 and all player costs will be covered by the league, which has agreements with hotels and grocery stores.

Around June 2020, Janes approached Tasia McKenna, the Technical Director of Basketball Nova Scotia who played five years at Lakehead University before graduating in 2011.

The idea was to bring McKenna on board as a commissioner. It took Timberlea, Nova Scotia, until October of that year to accept the offer.

“What sold me was that I wish it had been there when I was playing,” said McKenna, now 33. “And then the other element was, where do I go when I’m done playing? … My options are either to stop playing or to go abroad. And at the time, that n It just wasn’t an option I wanted to take.”

Instead, McKenna became a coach at Saint Mary’s. Like Hatt, she found regular pickup games to join, but eventually found she lost a step and retired.

First step towards the pro league

McKenna said the MWBA ​​can help players like her continue to develop their skills in a competitive environment for now, with the goal of one day leading to a fully professional league.

“Athletes across the country want it. It’s not just here in the Maritimes. We’ve heard Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton from our Senior Women’s National Team also talk about the need for this, for women, from coast to coast,” McKenna said. .

MWBA commissioner Tasia McKenna said she was sold for the role because she wanted the league to be there when her college career ended. (Radio Canada)

As commissioner, McKenna envisions a league that incorporates the voice of the athletes into all aspects of decision-making. She said that’s especially important in a nascent women’s league where the players are also mothers with other full-time jobs.

A fully operational professional league, like the CEBL on the men’s side, could allay some of those worries.

“The dream is for it to happen. And whether it’s by us or by someone else, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just that the importance of having this league is essential “, she said.

Influence on future players

Team Canada CEO and High Performance Director Denise Dignard said the MWBA ​​could be a positive influence.

“Young girls will see, ‘Oh, this is a sport I wish I could participate in. And here are the opportunities for me to play even beyond college.’ Because that’s it from the age of 21, boom, everything stops,” Dignard said. “And yet you have 35-year-old players still playing professional or semi-professional club basketball in every other country.”

Indeed, Janes said the age of the players ranged from around 25 to 40 years old. He said the league had received around 170 player applications through an online portal, including applications from Pakistan, the Czech Republic and the United States.

Janes is also the general manager of the Fredericton Freeze. Even so, he hopes the league is competitively balanced.

“That will always be my biggest thing is that women have the opportunity to play. And if our team wins, great. Halifax wins, great. But seeing the celebration of women in sport is the priority.” , Janes said. .

Like McKenna, his hopes are that the MWBA ​​will lead to a professional league — one way or another. Just last week, an organization called HoopQueens, claiming to be Toronto’s first paid women’s basketball league, announced it would begin play in June.

Hatt, meanwhile, intends to influence her community through her play. She and another player even started a podcast called “Now’s The Time.”

These three words are coupled with an accurate representation of the objectives of the MWBA.

“What’s really cool is that this is the first of its kind. There really isn’t an MWBA ​​anywhere else in Canada,” Hatt said.

“One day this could become not just the Maritime Women’s Basketball Association, but expand across Canada.”