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Yellowknife Filipino basketball league makes a comeback, with help of 2 men's sacrifice

Laurence Barbosa and Erick Paz gave up their second jobs to rekindle Yellowknife's Filipino community basketball league after a hiatus in 2018.

Laurence Barbosa and Erick Paz quit their second jobs 'for the love of the game'

Laurence Barbosa, left, and Erick Paz at the Yellowknife Philippine Basketball League championships on Saturday. It was thanks in part to these two men the league made a come back this year. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

Dressed in contrasting blue and yellow jerseys, Erick Paz and Laurence Barbosa couldn't stop shuffling their feet and interrupting each other with occasional exclamations like "woo" and "oh my God," on Saturday night. 

"We didn't expect this," said the 24-year-old Paz with a grin from ear to ear. He was pointing to fellow Filipino players practicing on the basketball court behind him, and the crowd that was trickling into Weledeh Catholic School gymnasium for the final championship game.

"Look at that." 

Paz and Barbosa helped organize the 2019 Yellowknife Philippine Basketball League in Yellowknife. Five teams competed for the top prize of $700.

The league — the largest men's basketball league in the N.W.T. — wouldn't have been possible this year if it weren't for the two men.

We're really eager to start this league. That's why we quit our second jobs.- Erick Paz, Yellowknife Filipino basketball league organizer 

It's been close to two years since the city's Filipino community last came together for the event, because of a hiatus last year.

According to Statistics Canada's 2016 census, the Filipino population is the largest visible minority in Yellowknife, with about 1,060 people.

"These young guys kept bugging me and other commissioners too, like, 'When are we going to start another league?'" recalled Eliezer Asombrado, one of the original founders of the league back in 2013.

When Paz and Barbosa realized there was nobody to run the league again, they made a sacrifice.

"They actually made it happen," said Asombrado.

From left to right, Laurence Barbosa, Eliezer Asombrado, Jojo Mercado and Erick Paz. Asombrado and Mercado were the original founders of the community league back in 2013. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

    "We're really eager to start this league. That's why we quit our second jobs," said Paz.

    "Just for the love of the game," said the 20-year-old Barbosa. "Secondly, for the community as well ... for them to feel the Filipino culture back again here in Yellowknife."

    The guys said it was the team effort of the committee — made up of old-timers like Asombrado, Jojo Mercado, Conrad Esteban and Vic Fontanilla — that made the league successful in the end.

    The two men said basketball was ingrained in their Filipino way of life.

    "When we moved here, we had like 'the hangover' of the game because in the Philippines, we used to play like every night," said Paz.

    "Like every day," piped in Barbosa.

    Erick Paz and Laurence Barbosa describe how they're feeling at the championships for the Yellowknife Philippine Basketball League, on March 30, 2019. 1:18

    Both Barbosa and Paz said as newcomers to Yellowknife, they played on the public courts around town. They soon found out about the league through fellow Filipino players.

    "And then fell in love ever since," Barbosa said.

    Paz huddles with his fellow Blue Eagles players before their game Saturday night. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

    Mom grateful for sports league

    Donna Panela was one of many moms in the stands, cheering on her children involved with the league.

    "I'm pretty excited because two of my sons are playing," said Panela. Her third son helped keep score on the sidelines.

    It's not [about] the winning. It's the camaraderie — coming together of all the Filipinos here in town.- Rommel Silverio , Yellowknife city councillor

    "I'm so glad my kids are very active and very sportive," she said, adding that it's nice to see her sons involved in sports rather than being exposed to "bad habits."

    Panela said as the Filipino community is getting larger in the city, the league is one of the only times everyone gets together and meets new community members.

    Donna Panela, far right, poses with other moms who came to support their sons at the Yellowknife community Filipino basketball league. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

    "I'm really pumped up because this has been a long-awaited game," said Coun. Rommel Silverio, who's Filipino. "It's part of our culture to play basketball."

    Silverio said he's been a supporter of the league since its inception, but since becoming a city councillor, he's able to provide the league with more financial support with the stipends he earns.

    "It's not [about] the winning. It's the camaraderie — coming together of all the Filipinos here in town." 

    The Yellow Saints defeated the Blue Eagles in the third place game 79–76, taking the second runner-up title.

    The White Titans took the championship trophy after defeating the Red Crusaders 63–50 later that evening.

    A group shot of the winning team, White Titans, with other players at the Weledeh Catholic School gymnasium Saturday. (Submitted by Erick Paz)

    Silverio said each team got a cash prize this year, starting with $700 for the champions, $500 for silver, $400 for bronze. The fourth place team got $300 and $200 went to the last team.

    The championships ended with a traditional potluck at the gym.

    After thanking everyone who supported them along the way, Barbosa and Paz hinted at the league's fate in 2020.

    "I'm hoping the next league would be as successful as this, or much better," said Paz.

    With files from Mark Hadlari

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