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Storied basketball program integral part of community’s sporting legacy    

Community ProfileStoried basketball program integral part of community’s sporting legacy    

Since its founding in 1956, the Brantford CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] Boys Basketball Association has been helping boys build their on-court skills while fostering teamwork, camaraderie, and community spirit.

Nick Esposito, who became president of the association in 2021, recalled his start with the program and his eventual return as a coach.

“I started playing in the program when I was around six years old. I grew up playing in the house league program, eventually [getting] into the rep program. After my playing days were over in high school, I went away to college for a few years and then got involved in coaching at the high school level. After that, it kind of ended,” Esposito continued. “I then had a cousin [who] was in the CYO program, [and] asked me if I would coach his rep team. So that’s how I got involved through coaching. Once I got married and had kids, I got further involved with the program through the convening of the house league program, which led me to becoming the president a few years ago.”

Since its founding in 1956, the Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association has contributed to developing the community spirit; many of the boys who have participated in the program have given back to the community in areas of sport, business, and leadership. Photo courtesy Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association.

However, the association’s history runs deep in Brantford.

“It was ingrained into all of us at a very young age of what the program is all about, which involves being active in not only basketball but also active [and being] part of the community. All of my coaches growing up really ingrained this into us; that we were not only part of the program as players, but we also have to do our part and give back when we’re at the appropriate age…by coaching or volunteering,” stated Esposito.

The popularity of the program is, in part, due to the many levels it offers.

“For the house league, it is a traditional hosting program [which] anybody can play in. You don’t have to have any basketball knowledge or skills to be involved. If you’re at the young age of five, or you’re just starting at the age of 13, we’re going to try and give you the best opportunity to learn how to play the sport of basketball,” Esposito explained. “We want to make sure everybody participates and everybody’s having a fun time while learning the game.”

Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association counts on volunteer coaches, many of which have gone through the program themselves in their youth, to guide the next generation of players. Photo courtesy Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association.

While the house league gives boys a good start in basketball, the rep program is a bit more competitive.

“The rep program is where it gets a little more serious. Again, we encourage anybody and everybody to try out [and] it doesn’t matter what your skill level is. [With rep] we have a group of coaches that select the team…we let the coaches go from there based on what they think the experience and skill level of our teams are and decide what they think is best for their team,” Esposito noted.

Esposito, who works closely with a strong executive and administrative team, explains the importance of its sponsors as well as its volunteers for the success of the association.  

“We are a not-for-profit organization, so we rely heavily on donations from various sponsors and members of the community. We don’t actively go out to search for anything… everything’s done by word of mouth. We have a rich history so a lot of our sponsors and donors that we have are recurring from over the years [and we] have great partnerships with them,” stated Esposito.

The U9/10 Team finished their first rep season with the Brantford Hawks. The team was composed of 7 and 8-year-olds, matching up against teams with players who were sometimes up to two years older than them. They finished the season going 2-2 in the Ontario Cup. Photo courtesy Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association.

However, one of the most popular events is the Paul Mitchell Invitational Boys Basketball Tournament, which has become one of the most renowned boys’ youth basketball tournaments in Canada.

“This event is geared towards our rep team; Paul Mitchell was one of the founders of the CYO program and the tournament was named in his honor, well before he passed away. He would come to as many tournament games as he could as it was going on…he was very involved with the program while he was still alive,” noted Esposito. “The last few years, it’s changed a little bit; we’ve run separate weekends for each rep team to let them have their own weekend and celebrate each team. But next year, we’re hopefully going to go back to the one-weekend format as we celebrate the tournament’s 50th year.”

Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association continues a long and rich history of fostering teamwork, friendship, and community through Basketball. Photo courtesy Brantford Boys CYO Basketball Association.

Although the majority of boys who go through the programs go to other things outside basketball, there have been others who have gone on to higher levels. 

“A friend of mine and my brother, who have both played in the program when I was a kid…they went on to play in the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletics Association]; my brother was at Duquesne Dukes for a year and then came back and played for the Guelph Gryphons of the OUA [Ontario University Athletics] and led his team to the national semifinals…we are now seeing a lot more kids, trying to get to that next level [and] we give them the base for that,” Esposito noted. “For the most part, we are more of a community-based basketball league; [but] if [someone] wants to get to the next level [and] get more of a specialized training…we can facilitate that through our program [and we know] people such as J.R. Galarza, who can help them.”

However, Esposito looks to continue building on the legacy of the program that was started decades ago.    

“I believe it’s the sense of community that the basketball program has right. Long before my tenure, there have been multiple people in charge of the program [and] I am building off what they set as the foundation. [They all have] made it much easier for me to help grow the program and make sure that the CYO brand stays as popular as it has over the last 50 years,” said Esposito.

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