LaSalle Leaders get a reprieve – When the Boys & Girls Club of Lasalle closed last spring Robert Shaki Gibbs thought it was game over for the Lasalle Leaders basketball team. The non-profit youth center serving kids from 3-18 years had been operating the basketball program for years, providing manpower, training, and a basketball court. Coach Gibbs, who took over as the director of the basketball program in 2008 wanted to maintain the program but didn’t know how he was going to manage it without court time and necessary resources. The basketball program meant a lot to the former staff member who had worked there since his university days and he wasn’t going to let his team go down without fighting the good fight. “It’s to help kids use basketball as a tool to develop and better themselves,” he says.
The high school math teacher says employees hadn’t been paid for a year-and-a-half by the time the Boys & Girls Club of Lasalle shuttered its doors. “We just continued to go ahead without getting paid,” he says. Initially, management held a meeting with the staff, saying that it was just a payroll mix-up and everyone would be paid shortly. Then there was a second meeting and promises made anew that everyone would be paid up in full, but the money never came. Eventually, most of the staff left in search of work elsewhere but Gibbs stayed on hoping things would turn around. “I stayed on because of my relationship with the kids. I wanted to figure out a way to keep it going after the other programs shut down.” The basketball program kept running in the building until May, 2018 although other programs were shut down.
Secured the temporary use of the basketball court
Last year was particularly stressful. Gibbs had secured the temporary use of the basketball court at Loyola High School for 2018-2019 with the proviso that the team clear out once the season finished. To make matters worse, he was changing jobs, moving from Beurling Academy to Lasalle Comprehensive High School.”I’m not permanent,” he says ruefully. “I have to look for a new position every year.”
The basketball program was due to start back up in August so Gibbs was beginning to really worry. “I knew I had to scramble to get a place,” he says. He was uncertain about what would happen in the upcoming year. Then the word came that the team would be getting a permanent home, back at the Boys & Girls Club of Lasalle.”The City of Montreal has taken over the building,” he says with evident relief. “They know the whole story – they know everything.”
Restart the basketball program for youths in Lasalle
Gibbs still isn’t entirely sure what will happen in 2020 but is pleased that the organization has been recognized by the City of Montreal as a partner. “I don’t see any obstacles although I haven’t received any documentation,” he says of the verbal entente. “They will restart the basketball program for youths in Lasalle.” However, the new agreement will cover operational costs only for the competitive basketball program for boys 8-18 years. The down side is that this leaves out the recreational program which helps younger kids learn to play basketball while also providing court time for older kids who aren’t competitive but still want to play. “The idea is to accommodate the growing interest in basketball for the community,” Gibbs says.
Gibbs is hopeful something can be worked out to facilitate the recreational basketball program as well. “Our goal is to have a recreational program,” he says. Costs are significantly lower than for competitive basketball so this may be feasible. “It depends on what we can work out with the city – it’s in the works,” he says. In the meantime Gibbs, ever the optimist, is looking at ways to raise funds and is on the lookout for sponsors.