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Love of basketball drives coach in helping area youth

Community ProfileLove of basketball drives coach in helping area youth

JR Gallarza has always had a feeling that basketball was going to play a big role in his life. As the basketball star started to rapidly develop in his youth, Gallarza, and his parents needed to go outside the city for training options. “That meant driving two to three times a week to Burlington, Oakville, or Toronto. I needed extra because of things that weren’t really provided in Branford, which is why one of the big pushing factors to what I do now.”

However, Gallarza’s success at both Notre Dame Catholic Elementary School and St. John’s College started to attract international attention.  “When I was in grade 11, I got asked to join a Filipino Canadian team that ended up touring the Philippines, and we played 30 games in 35 days.” Gallarza seized this golden opportunity, “This is back in that time where there were no mixtapes, there were no coaches coming down to Brantford. So, for me being able to go to the Philippines [it] was my scholarship opportunity right there. I ended up getting around 13 scholarship offers.”

JR Gallarza looks to the crowd after hitting a three pointer during a year three of his stint with the University of the Philippines. Photo courtesy Martin San Diego / Fullcourtfresh.com.

After finishing up his high school career at St. John’s College—winning an MVP as well as being part of teams that captured two city championships, Gallarza was focused on the next step of his life. “As soon as I walked off the stage [graduation], I literally had my plane ticket booked for the next day. And I started my basketball career in the Philippines. I went over there and played at De La Salle University [and then I] transferred to the University of the Philippines.”

Gallarza continues, “The University of the Philippines was a school [I chose] mainly because of its academics. And my parents were really big on education and academics and I was really big on it; coming from the honor roll and, and winning awards at St. John’s. So, I really took my schooling seriously.”

Gallarza, who decided to pursue a bachelor of education degree, quickly established himself as a strong player, becoming one of the leading scorers on the team by his third year, and came up in the top 12 in MVP league voting.  “I just had a really good season. And then the next year, I made the mistake of thinking I could balance out my last year of university with the basketball season. So, I was the team captain for my last year. And essentially, I was just averaging maybe three hours of sleep.”

Known for his shooting ability, JR Gallarza goes up for a three pointer to help his team start 2 – 0 in his final season of basketball. Photo courtesy Martin San Diego / Fullcourtfresh.com.

At that point, Gallarza wasn’t only managing his studies and playing for the university team, but making a strong push to become a pro. “Before becoming pro, you have to get a major round in semi-pro. So, I was doing that [but] it just became too much for me. Ultimately, my body was getting really torn up [and I] decided to focus on school, and focus on my school team.” Despite the real opportunity of becoming a pro after graduation—being a projected top 10 draft pick—Gallarza decided on another course. “For me, and even to this day, the most important thing in the world is my son. I had him early on. So, I was in my second year at university. My son was being raised by my parents while I was finishing school. So, I would travel back and forth as much as I could.”

Gallarza continues, “I couldn’t shake the fact that my son was about to start kindergarten. And I was here still trying to pursue a pro career. And so, it was either bring him out to the Philippines or come back home. And for me, it was like a no-brainer. I didn’t want to change his world because he loves his grandparents. I ultimately decided against pursuing a professional career because I wanted to help my son and I wanted to be a father more than anything else.”

JR’s son (Reinen) runs up on the court after watching his dad play for the first time and gives him a big hug after a game. Photo courtesy JR Gallarza.

However, when Gallarza got back to Brantford, he got some bad news. “The Ontario College of Teachers did not accredit my diploma…It would take me about three to four years to finish up my certification. And for me, having to do that would take time away from my son, and it would take a lot of money as well because I would have to commit to going back to school.”

During this time, Gallarza started working shifts as a YMCA supervisor for before and after-school care programs. “Before I started the business [Role], I would just be coming home and thinking ‘I am made for so much more. I know I can do more than this.’ And [my fiancée] just kept pushing me. And she said, just go ahead and do what you really feel like you want to do. So that’s where I started the business.” From there, Gallarza needed to act on his initiative. “I realized there were no basketball trainers in Brantford. The profession of basketball trainer was also very niche and very rare to find here. You could only find them almost specifically in Toronto. So, it was just something that I felt like I really wanted to help provide for the city and for kids like me growing up that wanted just more.”

Summer Camps 2017: Role’s very first basketball camp Role ran at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre. Photo courtesy @role.family.

Gallarza then took the next step in getting some help to make good on his vision and making his business happen. “I went through the BRC (Business Resource Center). They have a program that when you complete it you get a grant to help start your business. And so, I went through that whole process and completed the program; I got my business license and my business certificate.”

Despite his continued passion, there were some doubts about the success of Gallarza’s business simply because of how niche it was. Another factor that Gallarza had to work with was securing gym time. “Because Branford isn’t basketball focused, there’s only so much gym time to go around, and the way our school boards are set up, you can’t get the gym when it’s especially on holidays and for me camps ran over holidays. So, it’s such a scarce thing; it’s such a hard thing to get. So, when I first started my first partnership, it was actually with the Wayne Gretzky Sports Center. We continue to have that partnership today…where we run our rookie and sophomore programs.”

March Break Camps 2023: The most recent camp ran by Role. In 2017 JR Gallarza and his team realized that with the space they had and the wide range of age groups they were working with, it had to split our groups up to a Youth Camp (elementary age) and Teen Camp (high school age). Photo courtesy @role.family.

While Gallarza was making things happen with local partnerships, a decision needed to be made about securing something more viable, especially with the growth of Role. “We needed to find a property where we could build the space for the court. So, I got the permits and everything and upon, you know, buying our house, we set up the court outside and could run our personal sessions outdoors, over the spring and summertime. We do some small group sessions here too. And, of course, we have had our basketball camps as well throughout the summer. This summer, we have five weeks of camps. And we are also hosting evening scrimmages for our reps and high school level players.”

March Break Youth Camp 2023’s Team of the Week. Each week of camp Role has a ‘Battle Board’ where campers are split into two teams to battle it out throughout the week. Earning some points through skills competitions but mostly through scrimmages, the Team of the Weekly battles get very intense. Photo courtesy @role.family.

Despite many ups and downs and making some tough decisions, Gallarza’s hard work is truly making a difference in the community as reflected in Role’s recent 7th anniversary. But the focus is still on the kids and instilling the fundamentals while growing the passion in them for basketball. “It’s really just letting these kids grow into their own. I love working with the higher-level players that want to be here. But there’s something also amazing about seeing these kids starting to discover their love for the game.”

Role’s first ever “Christmas Eve – Varsity Runs”. Role invited all of the current prep school & collegiate athletes from Brantford for a day of scrimmages. Photo courtesy @salolestudios.

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