Some basketball aficionados in the Maritimes are taking a shot at starting a new elite amateur league.
Founder Brad Janes says that if all goes according to plan, the Maritime Women's Basketball Association (MWBA) will hold its first season starting in spring 2022.
The schedule will be built around the varsity basketball season, with the aim of giving university players a greater chance to train and play in their off time.
Former varsity players and retired professionals will also be invited to fill the team rosters, although play won't be strictly limited to women who have played at those levels.
Janes said the idea came from watching his three daughters play basketball, and spending 10 years on the board of Basketball New Brunswick.
"There's just not as many opportunities for females out there for organized leagues outside of youth basketball, high school, or if they're fortunate enough to play at the university level," said Janes.
Just as much as he sees a shortage of opportunity for players, Janes said there's a need to bolster coaching opportunities for women. He's hoping his league will help fill both those voids.
Tasia McKenna, the technical director of Basketball Nova Scotia, is the league's commissioner and a former varsity player. She said she would have jumped at the chance to join a league like this one when she was still playing.
"When I was out in Thunder Bay playing at Lakehead [University], when I would come back in the summers, I didn't have anywhere that I could play … I felt I missed out on an element of developing my game because the opportunity just wasn't there," McKenna said.
Six teams split between N.S. and N.B.
The league is promising six teams split between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Halifax is slated to have two teams, the Sirens and Thunder, with the third Nova Scotia team in Windsor, called the Edge. Confirmed franchises in New Brunswick are the Fredericton Freeze, the Port City Fog in Saint John and the 506 Elite in Moncton.
Janes said there's been more interest in franchises since the league was announced last week. He's hoping for four teams in each Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and at least one on Prince Edward Island.
Venues are yet to be confirmed, but Janes said the league is negotiating with universities and high schools that have gyms that can accommodate a crowd.
"Atlantic University Sport [has] a very strong following for women's basketball … so there's a built-in audience," he said.
"I think we'll find a pretty solid niche audience, those that are starved for live competition, particularly during that time of year, and those who just want to see the female athletes get out and show their stuff."
Based on Canada's goal of vaccinating everyone against COVID-19 by the end of the year, Janes said he's hopeful the Maritimes will be on the rebound from the pandemic in time for his league to start on April 29, 2022. But he's prepared to push it back by a year.
"Nobody knows what the future holds ... but we're hoping, we're trying to find some positivity here."
Taking inspiration from the WNBA
McKenna said she wants the MWBA to follow the example set by the Women's National Basketball Association last year of using sport as a platform to talk about social justice.
Like the WNBA, McKenna said the MWBA intends to amplify the Black Lives Matter Movement. The league has also chosen to support the Stop Violence Against Women and No More Stolen Women initiatives, and to advocate for LGBTQ equality.
"Although we're providing a place for women to play basketball at a high performance competitive level … [these issues] will always be on the forefront," McKenna said.
"Because oftentimes, if you look at our women that are playing basketball, we can fall into any one or multiple of those categories."
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