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Lexi Yurman and Alan Yusim, B'nai Brith Western Region
Photo by Gustavo Levy

Read Lexie Yurman -THE BASKETBALL PROJECT -Winner of the B'nai Brith Essay Contest 2011

by Lexi Yurman, May 20, 2011


This is the winning essay by Lexi Yurman from the B'nai Brith Essay Contest 2011.Yurman recieved a $500.00 prize from B'nai Brith for her essay. The editor has titled it.


By Lexi Yurman

Four years ago, when I was only fourteen years old, my basketball coach approached me and asked if I wanted to help him with a project. The project was to coach an inner city basketball team at risk of folding unless they found a coach. I went to the first practice on Langside and Ellice, the core of Winnipeg, and was absolutely terrified. I walked into the gym with my coach, Bob Axworthy, and we stood facing fifteen girls between the ages of seven and twelve. We knew we had our work cut out for us.

Each week we would hold a practice and the team would also play a game in the regular Winnipeg recreational league. Week after week the girls would lose their games, and week after week practices became harder to control. The girls, my girls, did not understand why they should put in the effort if they were always losing. Over time more obstacles developed for the girls. The team was made up of girls who had recently immigrated to Canada from Africa. After a few months of playing basketball the girls began experiencing racism from the players on the opposing teams and from the parents in the stands. They were harassed with racial slurs, and treated unfairly in games until eventually we, the coaches, pulled them out of the league and joined the rising star league. The girls were welcomed to the league with open arms and eventually started winning some of their games.

Over the past four years the basketball team of fifteen girls rapidly grew into a comprehensive basketball program with over one hundred girls and boys. The basketball program is now known as the Inner City Junior Wesmen Basketball Program. The program gives teens a team to play on, a job, and the opportunity to receive a scholarship to the University of Winnipeg Collegiate Model School. Since the program has grown we have also had to face more obstacles. One of the major problems is basketball attire. Many of the teens come to practice in worn-out shoes that put their safety at risk during games and practices. Our solution was to hold a shoe drive, which collected over fifty pairs of shoes. I still collect shoes whenever someone has a pair lying around because they are always needed.

Another obstacle we had to overcome and still have to deal with to this day is gang involvement. All of the children in this program are exposed to gangs and violence, and they are always at risk for getting involved in gang activity. This year three of our team members unfortunately lost their older brother to an act of unexplained violence. As one of the coaches, I had to help get our team over this hurdle. I hope that through this program we can prevent incidents similar to this one from reoccurring in the future.

This experience has turned into more than community service. I have made long-lasting relationships with the players, and my fellow coaches. This team has become a second family, as I would do anything for them. Moreover, what started as a favor for my basketball coach has now turned into what I think will be a defining part of my life. The program I was accepted into at the University of Toronto, is one based around community development through healthcare.  I chose the global health program precisely because of my past involvement with the team.  In addition to all the other invaluable lessons working with this team has given me, it has also provided me with a sense of direction for this next stage in my life and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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