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SD68 Learning Alternatives basketball team wins first playoff game in first season

Nanaimo Christian School wins senior A boys’ North Island championship in home gym
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools learning alternatives’ boys’ basketball team listen to a post-game speech from coach Matt Kuzminksi following a playoff victory on Thursday, Feb. 9 at Nanaimo Christian School. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

A Nanaimo high school basketball team’s rookie season included a trip to the playoffs and even though they won’t be competing for a championship, players and coaches say it was a banner season.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ Learning Alternatives’ boys’ basketball team made it to the single-A North Island championships on the strength of a 5-2 regular season. The team defeated North Island Secondary School 59-49 in its first-ever playoff game at the Nanaimo Christian School gym on Thursday, Feb. 9.

Matt Kuzminski, the team’s coach, said students led the drive to field a team after playing intramurals last year and he gives their inaugural season an A grade.

“When we had our first game, I said, ‘Put your hands up if you’ve ever played an organized sports game,’ and maybe three of the nine people put their hand up, so this is new to them … the message for the guys is nobody expected us to be here.”

Kuzminski told his players to have fun, do the best they can and forget the rest. The coaching staff didn’t try piling on expectations, he said.

Jacob Fair, who led his team with 29 points in the first playoff win, said starting a team at Learning Alternatives was a good idea.

“It’s been a good start for the basketball team this year and I think it’s different because it gives everybody a chance at trying new skills, that they haven’t been able to try before…” he said. “It was a good idea for [coach] to come help and start up a team to get everybody active, get everybody going and get a good team started.”

Samuel Gascoyne, another player, said he had limited basketball experience going into the season and has enjoyed playing this year.

“I never really grew up around the basketball environment, but it’s fun to get into it,” he said.

Ben Grant said playing on the team has benefited him.

“It’s been amazing, especially with coach Kuzminski,” said Grant. “Throughout the years I’ve struggled academically, but once I came to [Learning Alternatives], I’ve been right on my feet with basketball and everything.”

While the team earned a berth at senior A boys’ Island championships, Kuzminski, who is also Vancouver Island University men’s basketball coach, thought it was best to give up the spot, which went to North Island Secondary School.

“We did make the Islands, but had some injuries and I’ll be with my VIU team during the Island tournament and some players weren’t going to be around…” he said. “Just because of the way things are for our group, we’re going to call it a season.”

Brett Hancock, Learning Alternatives principal, said team sports are beneficial in other ways beyond health and fitness.

“I think of what kept me in school and it was sport,” said Hancock. “It’s where I felt safe. It’s where I learned how to make friends. But it’s where I learned skills that have helped me be successful in life. A lot of employability skills are prevalent now. How do you be part of a team? How do you overcome adversity? How do you bring up someone that’s struggling, and it just provides so much opportunity to kids that never really had that chance to be a part of a team.”

The Nanaimo Christian School Trail Blazers won the North Island championship in their home gym on the strength of a convincing 95-64 win over Campbell River Christian. Calvin Vanderkooi scored 31 points and Jackson Tonsi and William Johnson each scored 23.

NCS will also be hosting the Island championships from Feb. 23-25.

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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