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Student-Led NHS Charity Game to Improve Access to Sports Programs

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Niverville High School Grade 12 student Ethan Tomlinson organized a charity basketball game to help improve access to sports programming.

On Friday, May 6, Niverville High School (NHS) held a charity basketball game to raise money to cover sports fees for local students. The event was organized by Grade 12 student Ethan Tomlinson.

As part of their Global Issues course requirement, students at NHS are asked to learn about fundraising and giving back to the community. Many students organized fundraising campaigns using a variety of methods, like directly asking their friends and family members for funds, but Ethan decided to take his idea to the next level. He opted to organize a basketball game, with the money raised from ticket sales going to the Phys. Ed. department for students who can’t afford sports fees.

“Lots of people had good ideas, but no one else had taken on something on a scale like I did,” says Ethan. “The people in my class all did low-key initiatives, sending emails around to people they know or friends and family, but this was more of an interactive type of project. I wanted to get the whole school involved.”

With the support of the school’s administrative staff, Ethan invited the basketball team from Steinbach Regional Secondary School to participate, which created a friendly competition and generated wider interest in the game.

Tickets cost $2 each and originally organizers set a goal to sell 100 tickets. When tickets sold out quickly, they decided to increase the amount of spectators to 150.

“The turnout was way beyond what both Ethan and I were expecting,” says NHS vice-principal Graham Sereda. “He had budgeted for about 100 people, but people kept buying tickets. So we capped it at 150, and we had 150 people all pay into the ticket sales, which was great.”

The decision to not make tickets available to the general public was done to keep the crowd size manageable.

“I was expecting maybe 100 spectators,” says Sereda. “Unfortunately we had to start telling people no, and then we upped the tickets and still sold out. We had to keep it small because we are committed to a maximum attendance in the gym. “Some staff attended as well, but for this instance it was just great for students to come out and cheer for the teams.”

Sereda says Ethan did all the planning for the event, but that the school’s staff were happy to provide support.

“Part of his Global Issues project was to examine barriers in sport and look at what prevents people from being able to participate,” Sereda explains. “One of the things that came up very quickly was, what if you don’t have the cash to do it? So Ethan came up with the idea to put on the game and collect funds through an entry fee, and the funds can go toward people for whom money is a barrier to participating in sports in school. This aligns with our school’s commitment to provide equal opportunity to students in Niverville High School, so we threw our support behind it.”

The SRSS also provided a donation in the amount of $200, which is what a school would regularly pay to send a team to a tournament.

According to organizers, both teams played very well and it was a pleasure to host the SRSS players. It was a very close game with both teams leading at different times.

In the end, NHS pulled ahead to win. A memorable highlight was scoring an exciting three-point basket in the final three seconds of the game.

“It wasn’t to win the game, because we were up by two,” says Sereda. “But that’s how close it was. And when our team hit a three-pointer, it got quite loud in the gym at that point. So we won by five.”

Sereda says that the school would like to do more community events in the future, although it’s good to start small.

“In the future, because we haven’t done many school events like this before, we would want to invite students,” he says. “Then the next idea would be to open it up to parents and the like. The atmosphere was so great! We’re still a relatively new school and we haven’t had these sorts of events in two years because of COVID, so part of the highlight was just feeling there was a school spirit back in the building.”

Before the game could go ahead, Sereda says there were a lot of preparations to be made and it was not certain if the game would go ahead until very close to the event date.

“There were things that needed to be put in place, like minor officials for scorekeeping and shot clock and that sort of thing, and arranging gym time,” Sereda adds. “For Ethan, he didn’t really show it, but I think it was a little bit stressful.”

Ethan says that the hands-on learning experience gave him the opportunity to learn a lot about the challenges that can come with event planning.

“There were a lot of moving parts I needed to organize, all while communicating with the refs, while going to classes and doing my classes all day. Staying in constant communication and juggling all of those things was really hard,” Ethan says. “The hardest part of planning was actually finding referees to come. I couldn’t get referees until the last couple days before the game. I ended up finding some sources from my coach about a ref here and there, and eventually got Matt Antonio and Mr. Hank Dueck to come ref.”

Henry (Hank) Dueck retired from teaching at Niverville Collegiate Institute in 2014 and Matt Antonio is a youth pastor at Niverville Community Fellowship. Both felt a sense of satisfaction in coming back and giving of their time toward a good cause organized by a student.

But Antonio had a special connection to the game. In the year leading up to the pandemic, he provided coaching services for an NHS basketball team—and they even qualified for the provincial playoffs.

Unfortunately, Antonio and the team weren’t able to attend the high-level tournament because the events were cancelled. He says it was an incredible opportunity to serve as referee for the charity event and see some of the same players he coached.

“I’ve been a part of the community here for the last seven and a half years, and at the church in my role as youth pastor,” says Antonio. “I coached Ethan two years ago and we weren’t able to finish our provincials that year, so it was kind of a great way to honour him and honour that team that I was involved with two years ago. It was just a great opportunity to see the work Ethan had put into the event and feel the community spirit coming back.”

Ethan says he felt a sense of personal accomplishment at seeing the event come together with such success.

“I’d never done something on this level before,” Ethan says. “Seeing all the students come to a game and seeing all the excitement… we haven’t had anything like this in two years due to COVID. To others, I’d say try it because not only is it a win for the teams, it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s for a good cause. The students all enjoyed the game, the other team enjoyed the game, and everyone who watched enjoyed themselves. I’d encourage students to step out of their comfort zone to organize something like this.”

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