Sports

Beating heart of the Bearcats 0

IAN SHANTZ

Jerome Miller searched high and low for a team name that wasn't already taken.

In the end, the founder and president of a newly-formed Ontario Basketball Associationsanctioned rep program turned to his basketball idol, Michael Jordan.

"He used to sponsor the Cincinnati Bearcats," said Miller, who, coincidentally, is the same age as the jersey number made popular by Jordan: 23.

So Miller went with the Innisfil Bearcats. It sounded cool, it wasn't already taken by another club team and it had a loose connection to the biggest basketball star of all-time.

There's another local tie-in to the Bearcats moniker.

Canadian rocker David Wilcox has been known to perform regularly in Innisfil. His hitDo the Bearcathas turned into the local basketball team's unofficial anthem.

"We tried to contact David to see if our girls team could maybe get on stage and dance or something when he comes here next," Miller said. "We haven't heard back from him yet."

Maybe Wilcox will be in touch. After all, the Innisfil juvenile girls team took the Canadian icon's hit song all the way to Hawaii, where they played in a tournament over the Christmas holidays.

They danced to the song as part of a cultural exchange.

Miller hopes there are similar experiences ahead. His program, which started with one team in May 2008, has grown to include three teams: major bantam boys, bantam boys and juvenile girls.

"I didn't expect to be up to three teams in, basically, the first year," said Miller, adding the "feedback has been great" and it's been "all smiles" on the court.

The Bearcats join the Barrie Royals and Simcoe Suns as local organizations offering rep basketball programs, but Miller's program is the first of its kind in Innisfil.

"I used to play in Barrie (with the Royals) when I was younger, and I remember getting my mom to drive me to St. Joe's (high school) for practice. We lived in the south end of Innisfil, so it was a long way to have to go," said Miller, a former St. Peter's Secondary School student. "We're trying to fill a void here (in Innisfil)."

Miller has on-court experience, having played for the Durham Lords and University of Ontario Institute of Technology men's basketball teams.

He's attempting to mirror those levels, with an extra focus on building up the local girls' program.

"A lot of emphasis is put on men's sports, but I'm not sure it has to be that way," said Miller, who lives on the Barrie-Innisfil border. "We're trying to establish an elite program for women, one that isn't located so far away."

Like most new programs, Miller's has faced a few hiccups, notably a lack of available practice facilities. The juvenile team practises three times a week, while the boys teams practise two times a week, albeit in a smaller gym.

"That first year, a lot of people are probably a little skeptical of it, but now we're getting more people involved," Miller said. "It's getting our name out there and showing them what we are. It's word of mouth. When they see for themselves that it's a good program, the word spreads."

Miller hopes to eventually get the Bearcats playing in the province's top divisions, but the key is to ensure the athletes are having fun.

"When I was looking at starting it up, I was 21 and I remember asking myself, 'Am I really up for this? Can I actually do this?" Miller said. "I talked to (Barrie Royals past president Ken Urbach) and he gave me some great advice. He said: 'Cater to the kids, and you'll see your reward.'"

Miller is involved in the Regional Elite Development Academy program, which is endorsed by Canada Basketball.

For more information on the Bearcats, send an e-mail to: innisfilbearcats@yahoo.ca.

ishantz@thebarrieexaminer.com


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