RISE basketball camp is teaching local budding basketball players from grades 1 to 12 the top skills they need to be successful in the game.
The camp, which started as a club-based program in La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation, moved to Meadow Lake when local teacher Navanga Burke started teaching at Gateway School three years ago. It has grown in popularity not only the in region, but with budding b-ballers from across the province.
“I wanted to give girls from the northwest a chance to play at a competitive level,” he said. “I started working with the boys later, and that’s when the camp started to get bigger.
This year, there are boys and girls enrolled in the camp from as far away as Weyburn and Estevan, and Saskatoon, Regina, Battleford, Kindersley and northern Saskatchewan. Burke said about 65 per cent of the 92 campers enrolled are from Meadow Lake.
“Word is starting to get out now,” he said. "I think it comes from the positive experience most of the kids are having, they’re seeing an improvement in their game.”
Burke said the name of the organization stemmed from the idea that basketball players from the region didn’t always have the chance to play at the same competitive level their southern counterparts, whether that was from a lack of availability of training or geography.
“Girls and boys in the north didn’t have the shot to play at the level the southern teams are playing at,” said Burke. “The name was a way of saying rise above the situation you’re in, and I wanted to help them overcome that. That you can RISE to the top no matter where you live.”
The club program Burke runs allows players to take part at a provincial level, and compete in tournaments across the province.
Participants in the camp learn the fundamentals of the game including passing, dribbling, shooting and defence, and Burke says he sees a lot of potential in many of the groups.
“The kids seem to buy in and they like it a lot. I think the most improvement I can see and that I’m very happy about is the younger kids [in grades 5, 6 7]. There’s a very strong group coming up where we’ve been practicing a lot, doesn’t matter about size and strength, they know what they’re doing.
Burke, who is originally from Ontario, and his brothers all played basketball professionally in the past, and he said basketball is very much part of their family. He said he feels fortunate to be able to spread his knowledge, passion, and skills for the game to youth in the region and beyond.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I’m happy that I can actually give these kids an opportunity to play basketball. It’s my way of giving back, give these kids a piece of what I’ve learned through my career.”
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