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On the home court

Basketball tournament brings McGill students to the Filipino community

As a steady autumn rain came down over Montreal the weekend before last, ten three-man basketball teams faced off in the Cote-des-Neiges Sports Centre to support kids in the local Filipino community.

I entered the Shadd Gymnasium to bright lights overhead and the scuffling of shoes on the court, as the players jostled back and forth, keeping chase in pursuit of the ball. While they were engaged in the game, there was a casual atmosphere in the room, with friends chatting on the sidelines and participants throwing relaxed hoops between sets. This was the McGill University Filipino-American Students’ Association (MUFASA)’s third annual charity basketball tournament – held this year for the first time outside of McGill.

MUFASA Co-President Andrea Neufeld explained how the group has taken steps to integrate with Montreal’s Filipino community over the past few years. Though the group has been sponsoring the Philippine Women’s Centre since it got started in 1997, it was in large part through basketball that MUFASA made its way out of the McGill bubble and into the larger community, building ties with the Philippine Basketball Association of Montreal (PBAM).

Basketball is the national sport of the Philippines, and it plays a major role in uniting the community. “It’s how they get their kids to preserve their culture,” Neufeld said. “They meet other Filipino kids, families get together…. It’s really a community activity to spend a day watching basketball.” She emphasized the significance of this year’s tournament taking place in Shadd, a place that most members of the PBAM have grown up around.

For transparency’s sake, I should say up front that Neufeld is my cousin. But that’s how most people got to the tournament today – by being part of the extended family.

“We call it the barkada, the family clan,” she explained, elaborating on a central concept in Filipino culture, a version of family that expands to include friends, neighbours, and significant others. Coming to Montreal from Hong Kong, she was surprised at the cultural mixing she saw here, despite Quebec’s storied multicultural growing pains. The people who grew up here are distinctly North American, she stressed, but still rooted in Filipino values – particularly the importance of family.

This is the first year that MUFASA is directly supporting the Elite Hoops Academy, a local initiative that organizes basketball camps for Montreal’s Filipino youth. Jeff Dosado, coordinator of Elite Hoops, grew up in Montreal and went on to play varsity for American International College (NCAA Division II.) Now that he’s back in Montreal, he said, he feels a sense of social responsibility.

“I want to open up certain doors for them,” he said, citing the fact that most basketball camps are unaffordable for many local kids, going for around $500 a weekend. Elite Hoops, on the other hand, charges between $40-50 for two full days.

“Everybody’s just looking to make money,” Dosado remarked, “I just want to do things the right way.” He was enthusiastic about the McGill group’s support this year. “I’d like to continue being involved with them,” he said.

Dosado related Elite Hoops to organizations like the Centre Jeunesse d’Emploi, that provide some structure and skills training for young people whose families have just moved here. “Basketball’s really become a science,” he said. In addition to fostering social and recreational activities, the camps also provide instruction on “sports nutrition, strength and conditioning, biometrics, and working on footwork and balance.”

More than that, basketball also prepares you for other life situations, fostering discipline and maturity. “If you’re selfish and a jerk on the court,” Dosado said, “you’ll probably be selfish and a jerk in life.” It seems to be a commonly held wisdom; according to a New York Times interview with Barack Obama’s brother-in-law Craig Robinson, when Michelle first met her husband in Chicago, she insisted on seeing how he handled himself in the game before deciding to commit.

The PBAM dates back to 1971, when Jun O’Clarit, who had played semi-professionally in the Philippines, organized a tournament with some friends. Present at that first game was Jake Maguigad, one of the PBAM’s founding members, who still sits on its board of directors.

His son, Jody Maguidad, was among the participants at MUFASA’s tournament. “I met all these guys through basketball,” Maguigad said, gesturing around the room. “Apart from that, I didn’t meet a lot of Filipinos.”

Today, according to Dosado, the PBAM boasts around 700 athletes, ranging from six or seven-years-old to in their fifties and sixties.

Maguigad pointed to the teams skirmishing in front of us. “See those guys over there? I’ve been watching them play since I was a kid,” he said. Now he’s watching the younger kids coming in. “It’s like a generational thing,” he said, smiling. Judging from the look on his face, it’s a gratifying sight.