Inspiring the next Laurier sports star

Second-annual school day game hosted by women’s basketball team makes positive impact on children

Photo by Jessica Dik
Photo by Jessica Dik

When Nicole Morrison was a little girl, she used to watch university sport games. Living in Hamilton, Ont., she used to go watch the McMaster Marauders take on various Ontario opponents.

Years later, alongside teammates Kaitlyn Schneck and Heather Payne, Morrison played in front of a crowd of 1,600 elementary school students during the second-annual basketball school day game, hosted by the Wilfrid Laurier University department of athletics and recreation.

“It was fun, the little kids are always energetic, so it’s nice to have some supporting us and cheering us on,” Morrison said. “Got us pumped up. It was good.”

Jon Kursikowski, the coordinator of sponsorship and marketing in the department of athletics and recreation, said the biggest reason why they chose the women’s basketball team to host the school day game was because of their outstanding record.

Last year, the team made history, going an astonishing 17-3, defeating the Windsor Lancers on their own court along the way and ranking as high as No. 6 in the country. The team could have made it to nationals had they not been upset by the Queen’s Gaels in the first round of the playoffs.

“With most of those players returning this year, we thought it’d be a great opportunity to provide a little added exposure to that team and to that program,” Kursikowski explained. “To give a different spin of the event, but also to give something back to those girls for the success that they’ve had over the last few years.”

A native of North Bay, Payne also grew up watching university basketball — her mother played for the at-the-time University of Western Ontario and Payne watched Laurentian Voyageurs games. Playing in front of kids inspired her to put on a show for them and make it fun for them.

She also enjoyed being a role model for them, too.

“It’s really great that they see women’s players and that there’s teams out there that these girls can come in and see these role models, these really healthy role models and say ‘I want to do that when I’m older,’ ” Payne said. “I think it’s really good that you get to see both men’s and women’s, and we like to think we put on a show so hopefully they enjoyed themselves.”

The idea of the school day game first and foremost is entertainment — according to Kursikowski, it gives kids an opportunity to come to a high-level sporting event that they may not have the opportunity to attend. Admission is free and avoids any financial concerns or restrictions.

“It’s a very affordable event for these kids to be able to come to. It gives them the opportunity to come to an event like this that they may not be able to experience otherwise,” he said. “It gives them an idea of what they can aspire to. They see these student-athletes, whether the elementary students are athletes or not, it gives them an idea that ‘I can be there one day.’ ”

Schenck wishes an event like the school day game happened while she was at school — taking a different path than the other two athletes, Schenck played multiple sports as a child, including soccer, volleyball and baseball before she tried out basketball. When it came time to choose what varsity sport she would play in university, basketball won her heart.

And basketball on the women’s side doesn’t end at the university level. Korissa Williams of the Windsor Lancers made the Canadian national team last year – something that was unheard of. Kursikowski said that the Canadian Interuniversity Sport organization was always second-tier to the NCAA — their brother down south — and now, with the competition of the OUA steadily increasing, it gives athletes other avenues if they want to make it pro instead of having to go down south to fulfill their aspirations. Instead, if they wanted, they could stay home and still have a strong career.

This is also true on the men’s side, where multiple avenues are opening up, with children having aspirations of joining the Raptors 905 D-league team or even making the Toronto Raptors one day. Going south to play basketball isn’t the only route.

“So many more players now than ever are going from university sport to play professionally, in Europe or in Australia, or somewhere outside of North America, there are way more opportunities than there ever has been,” Kursikowski said.

It also gives a unique experience for the athletes, as well. The OUA has struggled with fan attendance over the years, making it hard to draw fans to their product. Kursikowski said that hosting the school day game is something they really enjoy providing for athletes. The excitement of kids is so invigorating and creates a unique experience for the players.

As for the future, Kursikowski hopes he can continue holding events like this, to inspire kids to stay active and possibly come to Laurier one day.

“For us, it’s such a great community event. The ability to pull so many kids and teachers just for one day and come together and cheer for both teams,” he said.  “But I mean just expose them to basketball and hopefully aspire them to stay active and to stay involved.”



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