Using basketball to build relationships in Victoria

S.J. Willis students show prowess on court against VicPD

Victoria police Sgt. Ron Cronk goes up for a layup

Victoria police Sgt. Ron Cronk goes up for a layup

Young people and adults line the edges of the basketball court, clearly favouring one side over the other as they cheer successful baskets.

This is not one of Victoria’s basketball-mad high schools, like Oak Bay or Mount Douglas.

No, it’s S.J. Willis alternative school, attended by students who found they weren’t a good fit for the regular system, and those who simply wore out their welcome at previous schools.

The boys basketball team’s opponent on this day? Members of the Victoria Police Department, the people who are more likely to encounter some of these students on downtown streets.

“These games are good for bridging the gap between the police and youth,” said Const. Sue Hamilton, the department’s school liaison for S.J. Willis and sometime basketball player.

This is the fourth time the students have played hoops against the cops.

“It’s important to bring (the students) into a fun environment. (It’s also about) trying to humanize us,” Hamilton says.

School principal Deb Whitten, in her first year at S.J. Willis after serving in the same role at Monterey middle school in Oak Bay, says these games are important for “community building.”

“We’re fortunate to have this relationship with the Victoria police, especially with Sue,” she says.

Such is the relationship with Hamilton that some students call her first if they run into trouble, according to another teacher at the school.

While they are smaller on average and have no doubt played less basketball than the out-of-uniform officers, the high schoolers pull away in the late stages of the game and score what one school staffer believes is their third win in the four games.

With the gym nearly cleared out, Bo Godron, 16, admits it was fun playing against the officers.

“They’re pretty competitive,” he says, adding it was rather different seeing them out of uniform. “It was hard to get inside on them. They’d just block you.”

Organizers admit the goal of these games is to help both sides realize that their encounters off the court don’t always have to be negative.

It’s a work in progress.