RYBL: Hooked on hoops

By Don Fennell

Published 12:23 PST, Wed November 29, 2017

Last Updated: 2:12 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

Jumping in the blue station wagon, the backboards and hoops strategically strapped to the top, Tim Carkner was barely able to contain his excitement.

Each Friday night brought the same ritual, mini basketball with his older brothers Mike and Randy and a wealth of friends—new and old in the old gym at Hugh Boyd Secondary School.

The boys’ dad, Bob, started the tradition in the late 1960s, spawning a love affair between the community and the roundball game that continues to flourish.

“To this day I will run into old friends who played and we often talk about how that was absolutely the best time,” says Tim, who is now a coach in the Richmond Youth Basketball League (RYBL) born out of those grassroots efforts.

Tim was drawn to the sport watching his brothers play, and then joining in the endless driveway games at home—from One-on-One to Around the World.

“I think we drove the Seafair neighbourhood crazy with the non-stop bouncing of basketballs,” he says. “And Grandpa’s homemade spotlight for night games was icing on the cake.”

A much respected and admired figure in the community during his lifetime, Bob (who passed away in 2009) was a popular administrator in the district who was a lifelong learner and dedicated humanitarian and philanthropist. A member of the Order of Canada, he was also an avid sportsman who dedicated considerable time and effort to promote athletics. The Bob Carkner Memorial Classic is held each year by Steveston-London as a tribute, and a scholarship is awarded in his memory.

“His love and enthusiasm for sport was unbelievable,” Tim says. “The (number) of Richmond kids that went through his mini-basketball program and then went on to play high school, college or university is truly amazing. Now, so many are like myself, back doing what he was best at—teaching the game to the local youth through community programs like RYBL.”

Nothing tops being part of a basketball team, Tim says. The forging of friendships, and the idea that to succeed everyone plays a role, are paramount.

Watching Mike coach his three daughters (Natalie, Samantha and Stephanie) from the age of five through high school, and the “huge impact on their success,” inspired Tim.

“I saw how coaching was a fantastic way to connect with your own kids as well as their friends,” he says. “I was coaching a RYBL under-13 girls’ team with Chris Kennedy. We were up at SFU when he subbed in my daughter Kate, who at the time was in Grade 5. She stepped on the court with a uniform that was two sizes too big and had to check a Grade 7 that must have been a foot taller. I felt sick to my stomach for her, but she got in defensive stance and held her own.”

Seeing a young player hit their first basket in a game is another of Tim’s favourite coaching moments. That look on their faces when the ball actually falls through the net is classic, he says.

Now coach of RYBL’s under-12 girls rep team and also the McMath Secondary School Grade 9 girls’ team, he says RYBL stands for what is right in youth sports.

“Since it is a city program, fees are a fraction of what private clubs charge allowing any young basketball player in Richmond the opportunity to play. All you have to do is got into a high school gym right now and see how many boys and girls are playing basketball all because they go their start with RYBL. To top it off, RYBL has proven over and over with both the boys and girls rep programs they can compete with any of the private clubs around the Lower Mainland.”

Quality people, quality program

RYBL has flourished because of so many high-quality people being involved, says Chris Kennedy. “It has been great to work with coaches like Tim Carkner, Sean Berda, Dave Giesbrecht and excellent co-ordinators like Matt Winograd and Jessy Dhillon.”

Entering his 31st season coaching basketball, this is also his 12th year as part of the RYBL family. Somehow, he’s finding time to coach McMath’s senior girls’ team too.

“I love the mission of RYBL to support and grow the game at the community level,” he says, further heartened by the number of high schoolers who first got their feet wet in RYBL. “We have had many of the top high school players in the last 15 years go through RYBL, but as important, it has provided a place for hundreds of kids not going on to college basketball to play, learn the game, and be active.”

Basketball is booming in Richmond, Kennedy continues. The struggle is being able to offer enough programs to meet the demand.

“If we can get more places to play, and more volunteer coaches to improve the player skills, we can continue to grow the game,” he explains.

An enthusiastic participant in many community sports growing up, including hockey, soccer and baseball, Kennedy’s passion for basketball began as a Grade 5 student in George Nakanishi’s class.

“I loved the fast pace and all the scoring,” he says. “And I remember Mr. Nakanishi taking us to the PNE Agrodome to watch the B.C. high school championships in 1984 (the year Steveston beat Richmond in the final). I also remember loving to watch the Harlem Globetrotters, and participating in the Grade 7 tournament at McRoberts. The feeder tournament was like the Super Bowl of elementary basketball. And I remember being in Bob Carkner’s basketball program for elementary students.”

It wasn’t too many years later that Kennedy, too, caught the coaching bug.

“Don Taylor and Bruce Haddow hooked me into coaching at Woodward Elementary School,” he says. “I was not a great player, but I loved the game so coaching seemed like a great way to contribute. I also loved the strategy of the sport.”

In 1998 Kennedy guided the McRoberts Strikers senior boys’ team to an astonishing semifinal appearance versus the juggernaut Richmond Colts at the provincial AAA championships; game played before a capacity crowd at the Agrodome. A very young team with only one Grade 12 on the roster, the Strikers weren’t expected to make it to the provincials but advanced as the lowest seed from the Lower Mainland and then scored three straight upsets at the B.C.’s including beating the Fraser Valley champions from Abbotsford.

Grizzlies had positive presence

Like most expansion teams, the Vancouver Grizzlies struggled in the early years. But throughout their six-year history, the mere presence of the NBA club helped keep basketball at the forefront.

Jessy Dhillon was nine years old during their Grizzlies’ inaugural season. His dad bought him a Bryant Reeves jersey, a team sweatshirt, and a ball cap.

“I was all in,” he says.

When it comes to basketball, Dhillon is still all in.

The RYBL’s co-ordinator, he delights in seeing the players develop self-esteem, confidence in basketball skills, and friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

“Co-ordinating RYBL programs is really helping me attain valuable experience overseeing the many different aspects of running a recreation organization,” says Dhillon, who is pursuing a degree in recreation management at Langara College with hopes of being a community program co-ordinator. “I really value the relationships that have been built with the staff and volunteers. They are the backbone of all our RYBL programs.”

Dhillon has always loved playing sports, soccer being the one he excelled at. He got into basketball in high school, he says, “because it was fun being part of at a team full of my friends.”

That was at McNair Secondary School, with the colourful Paul Eberhardt as his coach.

“He made being part of McNair basketball an honour,” Dhillon says. “We really thought we were part of something special within the school, and he was an amazing coach that all 15 kids would have run through a wall for.”

Dhillon grew up admiring Steve Nash, the Victoria kid who some said was too small but defied the odds to make it big in the NBA.

“The way he played the game, making sure everyone was involved was awesome,” Dhillon says. “He played the game the way it should be.”

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