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A Success Story in the Making — B’nai Brith Women’s Basketball League

Group shot of “The Basket Cases”, one of the B’nai Brith Women’s Basketball League team. Back row:  (left to right) Mira Miller, Shawna Rubin, Andrea Berman. Front row: (left to right) Randi  Goodman, Cindy Maker, Sue Wolff, Brigitte Levine (Credit: David Grossman)

By David Grossman
Special to B’nai Brith

It’s game day. Not your typical sports escapade when people flock to the television, while others grab the refreshments to check out scores, wins and what team grabs professional sports bragging rights.

Instead, this game is for Jewish women of all ages, who gather at a North Toronto gym – put on the uniform, lace up the running shoes and focus on fitness, enjoyment and socialization.

There’s no stress or evidence of a win-at-all-cost attitude. Game pressure is non-existent. Sure, there is a bit of muscle tensing – but, realistically, it’s more about a night out with others.

B’nai Brith’s launching of a new Women’s Basketball League in Toronto has sparked large interest, attracted more than 50 players in the inaugural season and the formation of a six-team consortium.

While the calibre of play is no stepping grade to Canada’s National team or the Women’s National Basketball Association, there is something quite evident: the positive approach, uplifting attitude and camaraderie.

“It’s enjoyable and we come out for the exercise and to meet others,” said Shawna Rubin who, at age 57, is proof that given an opportunity for pleasantry and light-hearted fun can also lead to huge dividends in exercise, staying healthy and physically fit. “If my 28-year old can play, so can her mother. I’m enjoying it – and that’s what counts.”

With the growth and popularity of the B’nai Brith Women’s Summer Softball League came chatter about doing something when the bats and gloves get put away for the season. A suggestion to aim for the hardwood of the basketball court perked interest – even though most games begin around 9:30 p.m. – a time when many are about to call it a night.

“Three years ago, we had two softball teams for women and now there are 13 teams with participation involving those between the ages of 18 and 60,” said Justin Bregman, Sports Director for B’nai Brith. “The ladies came to us inquiring about starting up a basketball program and to now get 50 women to commit to playing in the Winter Season, and at night, is fabulous.”

B’nai Brith uses excellent facilities at Hoop Dome and Elite Basketball Camps to stage games and practices. Access to the basketball court is at the end of the day – when prices are cheaper and players are either finished school, work or made sure family commitments are under control for a few hours.

Practice at the Hoop Dome (Credit: David Grossman)

Players pay a membership fee and costs toward facilities, officials and scorekeepers for a two-week exhibition series along with a 10-game season and playoffs.

While Sue Wolff says some of the younger players are more into the game having come off of experience at the high school, college and university scene, others, and Wolff includes herself, have a different philosophical approach as to why they’ve chosen a night out to play some hoops.

“Age is not an issue,” said Wolff, a controller and supervisor in accounting. “Some of us may not be as experienced at basketball, know the game as well as others or take it as serious, but there’s always a chance to learn, stay fit and it’s great when family members either come out to watch or talk about us.”

And then there’s 65-year old Brigitte Levine, a grandmother of five who drives a car with the license plate “Hot Grnma”.

“I played softball and thought this was another opportunity that couldn’t be missed,” said Levine, a former power forward in her high school days at the now defunct Sir Sandford Fleming Academy. “My family is amazed. They can’t believe I’m playing. I actually think it’s quite cool and it makes me feel young and energetic. Kind of like reliving my youth days.”

By profession, Mira Miller is a 46-year old occupational therapist and life care planner. When it’s take-a-break time from the career, the single mother of three and former graduate of Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, is a triathlete combining walking, swimming and bicycling. Yet, when she heard basketball was available, she was hooked.

“I love team sports and it’s a chance to leave everything else behind,” she said. “The focus is here, on basketball, and everything else shuts out for an hour or so.  I’m so happy (B’nai Brith) has done this.”

Cindy Maker, a former intensive care nurse, said she’s thrilled that B’nai Brith endorsed the basketball idea.

“Playing basketball, for us, is once a week – but it’s also a great opportunity to develop friendships that last a lifetime,” she said. “When softball season ended, we thought it wasn’t a good time to end things. We needed something else and basketball is perfect”.

While Bregman is quite enthusiastic about the launching success of women’s basketball, he said there is lots of room for expansion.

“There is interest, people are learning about it and, hopefully, we can make this a big success, too,” he said. “I am told, this has become a new way of thinking for Jewish women and we’re encouraging others to try it.”

David Grossman wrote and broadcast sports with the Toronto Star and The Fan 590 radio station and was in public relations and spent more than 40 years in Canadian sports and government relations.