As a developing young basketball player, there will probably be no greater thrill than setting foot on the floor of the Air Canada Centre with the opportunity to train like a Toronto Raptor.
Thanks to Ford of Canada and the Toronto Raptors, the Chatham-Kent Wildcats Bantam girls’ basketball team had the opportunity to take part in the Ford Drills and Skills event and meet Raptors alumni Jerome Williams.
Sixteen teams from across southern Ontario won the chance to take part after an on-line voting contest. Wildcats coach and teacher at Ursuline College in Chatham, Chantal Lucarelli said she took a chance when she heard about the contest.
“It was a lucky break. I had seen the commercial about it while we were watching Sports Centre,” Chantal said. “I thought it was a shot in the dark, but I put in an application. I never thought we would win but the kids got everyone involved.”
The organizers made the experience unforgettable for the team, according to the coach.
“The girls were excited and a little overwhelmed. They made an entrance in Raptor style with lights, dancers and a band,” she said. “It was super-cool. Ford and the Raptors really did a great job, challenging the girls with the skills stations. And of course, there were promo gifts which always go over well.”
Wildcats player and Lucarelli’s daughter Diana agreed the experience was incredible.
“It was really exciting to find out we had a chance to go,” Diana said. “It gave us a really great experience. When they announced our team, everyone was cheering and the lights and cheerleaders; it was like we were all-stars.”
The team got to train just like the Raptors with agility skills, ball-handling, shooting and dribbling. Diana said they even got to meet the chef in charge of nutrition for the team and learned about the nutrients and energy you need to play like a pro.
“The girl who taught us ball-handling taught us a really cool move and she made it seem easy, but it would take a lot of practice to get it,” Diana explained.
Meeting Raptors alumni Jerome (Junk Yard Dog) Williams was a big thrill for the team, according to both Lucarellis.
“Jerome was awesome. He’s so tall and when he gave his speech it was so inspiring,” Diana enthused. “He taught us even if you are not the best shooter, you’re still an important part of the team. He said TEAM stands for Together Everyone Achieves More.”
The Wildcats are Bantam age so this year was their last year to apply for the program.
“It was a really good season finale,” Lucarelli said. “It brought out their togetherness and their CK spirit. Everyone was very personable and made every kid smile all day long. It is definitely an experience they will remember forever.”
Part of the reason the Wildcats were chosen to take part was the fact they volunteer in the community. This past year the team went with co-coach Chris Dziadura and his family to pack baskets for the Goodfellows.
“That’s the first time we had done that and it was really an eye-opener and humbling experience. We will definitely do it again,” Lucarelli said.