Long overdue, the first paid women's basketball league in Toronto is finally here.
HoopQueens Summer League will play games every Sunday afternoon from June 5 to July 3 at Toronto Metropolitan University's Kerr Hall. Four teams comprising 10 players each will participate over the five weeks.
The league is the brainchild of 27-year-old Keesa Koomalsingh who has played basketball since she was in grade school.
"My ultimate goal for HoopQueens is just to continue to provide space for girls, opportunities for girls and women to be successful on and off the court," said Koomalsingh, a native of Markham, Ont.
"That comes with creating physical space, creating emotional space, and financial support for those girls. Women athletes, especially, don't get paid so it's just about creating more opportunities and safe spaces."
What makes it unique is that eight of the 10 players will be paid $200 per game — the final two spots for unpaid reserves.
Among the notable names involved are: Michaella Riche, who played NCAA basketball at Minnesota; Brey Johnson, who has professional experience in Europe: and Dakota Whyte, who played Division 1 at Wisconsin.
Koomalsingh said a key aspect of the league are workshops that will focus on career development while addressing the barriers in different industries, specifically the barriers that women face in sport. The workshops will be led by Ho and will feature mentorship programs for community youth age 16 and older who are interested in a career in sports.
Contributing to expansion of women's hoops
Koomalsingh hopes that HoopQueens Summer League can contribute to the expansion of support for professional women's basketball in the city and country, and that girls see an opportunity to keep playing the game they love right where they are.
"The peak would be having a physical space for HoopQueens," Koomalsingh said. "Being able to run our programming throughout the year, having a gym space dedicated to us, for us, by us."
Koomalsingh is a business grad who says she did not find much thrill in a regular 9-5 job. Recognizing it wasn't the life she dreamed of, she took up coaching and fell in love with mentoring the young girls involved.
Looking to set up opportunities for them to play, Koomalsingh set up pick-up basketball sessions because she remembered how she found it a challenge to find girl's runs in her local community growing up. As a means to improve, she'd bring cameras in so players could look back on the film to study and she could help teach them.
That's when her business mind went to work. After the first wave of COVID with more than 100 girls wanting to play, Koomalsingh had to temper expectations to meet protocols at their first venue, The Playground in Scarborough, Ontario. With the success in organizing the runs, her friend Brey Johnson encouraged her to start a league and after some initial reluctance because she didn't feel she could commit at the level that was needed and that she would ideally want to, further encouragement from more people got her over the line.
It's been two years now of running this event successfully in the summer, and the contacts Koomalsingh has established by being so immersed in the community has also led her to notable members of the local basketball sphere coming together to make this event a success.
The head coaches at HoopQueens Summer League will be all female, led by the likes of Chanel Ramcharan, Christine Hyde, and Naomi Millings, who is currently the head coach of the Centennial College women's varsity basketball team and there will be some men involved as assistants. Among them is Christopher Francis, the women's head coach at J. Addison School in Markham, who started the Elite Girls Basketball Team in 2017-18.
"We want to be able to showcase that men are supporting this movement as well," Komalsingh said. "It's not an only-girls club. There's men supporting us playing this sport, supporting us trying to create our own spaces."