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The HoopQueens Summer League offers “space and opportunities” for women on and off the field

Toronto’s long overdue first paid women’s basketball league is finally here.

The HoopQueens Summer League will be played every Sunday afternoon from June 5 through July 3 at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Kerr Hall. Four teams of 10 players each will take part over the five weeks.

The league is the brainchild of 27-year-old Keesa Koomalsingh, who has played basketball since she was in elementary school.

“My number one goal for HoopQueens is to continue creating space for girls, opportunities for girls and women to thrive on and off the court,” said Koomalsingh, a native of Markham, Ontario.

“That means creating physical space, creating emotional space and supporting these girls financially. Female athletes in particular don’t get paid, so it’s just about creating more opportunities and safe spaces.”

Summer games that help bridge a gap between the younger and older generations of gamers. (@creatrchris/Instagram)

What makes it unique is that eight of the 10 players get $200 per game – the bottom two spots for unpaid reserves.

Among the notable names involved are: Michaella Riche, who played NCAA basketball in Minnesota; Brey Johnson, who has work experience in Europe; and Dakota Whyte, who played in Division 1 at Wisconsin.

Koomalsingh said a key aspect of the league is workshops that focus on career development while also addressing the barriers in different industries, particularly the barriers faced by women in sport. The workshops are led by Ho and include mentoring programs for youth aged 16+ interested in pursuing a career in sport.

Contribution to the expansion of women’s baskets

Koomalsingh hopes the HoopQueens Summer League can help expand support for women’s professional basketball in both town and country and that girls see an opportunity to play the game they love where they are.

“The highlight would be a physical space for HoopQueens,” said Koomalsingh. “To be able to run our program year-round and have a gym dedicated to us, for us and by us.”

Koomalsingh is a business administration graduate who says she didn’t find much of a thrill in a standard 9-5 job. Realizing this was not the life she had dreamed of, she began coaching and fell in love with mentoring the young girls involved.

The players pose for a group photo at the conclusion of the 2020 Summer Runs. (@creatrchris/Instagram)

Koomalsingh wanted to create opportunities for them to play and organized takeaway basketball sessions because she recalled how she found it a challenge to find runs for girls in her local community growing up. To improve, she brought cameras for players to look back at the film to study and she could help teach them.

That’s when her business acumen went to work. After the first wave of COVID with more than 100 girls wanting to play, Koomalsingh had to lower expectations to meet protocols at their first venue, The Playground in Scarborough, Ontario. With success organizing the runs, her friend Brey Johnson encouraged her to start a league and, after initial hesitation because she did not feel she could get involved at the level required and that she ideally wanted, continued encouragement from more People put her over the line.

This summer event has now been running successfully for two years and the contacts Koomalsingh has made through her strong community immersion has also led to notable members of the local basketball sphere coming together to make this event a success .

The HoopQueens Summer League head coaches will all be female, led by Chanel Ramcharan, Christine Hyde and Naomi Millings, who is currently the head coach of Centennial College women’s varsity basketball team, and will involve some men as assistants. Among them is Christopher Francis, the women’s head coach at J. Addison School in Markham, who founded the Elite Girls Basketball Team in 2017-18.

“We want to show that men also support this movement,” said Komalsingh. “It’s not an all-girls club. There are men who support us in this sport and support us in creating our own spaces.”

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