Raptors surprise girls basketball tournament

TORONTO – Schools from across the Greater Toronto Area had sent their girls’ basketball teams to MLSE Launchpad for a mini-tournament and then some fun exercises and drills.

And a special surprise visit from the Toronto Raptors.

The students started to cheer and clap, some scrambling to get their phones, when the Raptors jogged out of one of the facility’s back rooms, dishing out high-fives to kids as each player’s name was announced. For youth players like Julia, meeting and training with NBAers defied description.

“It was so crazy. I’m so excited. I’ve never met a big sports team before,” said Julia, holding up her hand. “I’m shaking so much because I’m so nervous. I’m so excited that they’re here.”

Casey, one of Julia’s teammates, also had a hard time putting into words what the visit from the Raptors meant to her.

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“I’m shook, like, I don’t know what to say,” she said. “I’m happy I’m really happy honestly. You can’t even see it on my face.

“It’s like inside I’m screaming.”

MLSE Launchpad is a 42,000 square foot space in downtown Toronto’s Moss Park neighbourhood. Sponsored by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — owners of the Raptors, NHL’s Maple Leafs, CFL’s Argonauts, and MLS’s Toronto FC — the Launchpad uses sport and physical activity to build healthy communities.

The event was designed to celebrate Women’s Empowerment month ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday.

“This is a showcase of the things that we try and do on a daily basis,” said Bess Lennox, manager of sport programming for MLSE Launchpad. “Women and girls are one of our priority demographics for engagement because we know that they are engaging at lower levels and dropping out of sports at higher levels and we also know the importance of sport to them.

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“Something like this, I think, showcases our day-to-day commitment to serving young women and helping them recognize their potential through sport.”

Forward Garrett Temple was one of the Raptors who participated in the day and he said it was “a blessing” to have an impact on young people’s lives.

“Part of the obligation of being a professional athlete is to be able to put smiles on kids faces, be a mentor, be a role model,” said Temple, watching as teams filed out, happily singing along to a Miley Cyrus song.

“So coming out here after a basketball tournament, to see these young women playing a game that I love, that’s made a living for me, seeing their faces light up, is great to see.

“We need to shine more light on women in sports.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.

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