Toronto

Basketball World Toronto on a mission to get more girls on the court

Basketball World Toronto is counting on the success of the Toronto Raptors — who are in pursuit of their first-ever NBA championship title — to boost interest in the game and to get more young people involved.

Founder believes Raptors fever will encourage more young people to play the game

Basketball World Toronto is working with Basketball Ontario and CAAWS to try to learn about why girls don’t stick with the sport and how to encourage and keep them engaged. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

As basketball fever grips Canada, an organization working to develop the best all-around basketball programs and players in Toronto says there has been a marked increase in the number of youths expressing an interest in the sport.

But Basketball World Toronto says the number of girls joining basketball programs has not kept pace with the number of boys.

The group's founder, Michael Reio, says they are currently working with Basketball Ontario and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) to figure out how to get more girls involved.

"Unfortunately, it tends to be a smaller grouping of girls that are playing the sport, and obviously we're trying to elongate that in some way," Reio told CBC Toronto.

He hopes the study will help determine where public spending can be most useful in getting more girls on the court.

More than 200 teenagers who took part in a teen basketball tournament on Saturday. The league consists of about 50 girls and 200 boys. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

In the 13 years since Reio founded Basketball World Toronto, he's noticed that the boys' basketball programs are always quite larger than programs for girls.

"For girls specifically, it's really just about making them aware of the programs that are out there and available for them," he said.

"There are good, quality programs … our goal is to try and just spread the word and just give them an avenue to play basketball."

Raptors success is big boost for basketball

Reio is counting on the success of the Toronto Raptors — who are in pursuit of their first-ever NBA championship title — to boost interest in the game, and to get more young people playing.

"I've been always saying, the further the Raptors go, the better it is for us," he said. "Hopefully we can keep Kawhi [Leonard] around and continue on our way, not only one championship but also next year and the future."

Fifteen-year-old Persephene Ocol says she fell in love with basketball as a kid and, these days, her inspiration comes from the Raptors.

"What my coach is telling me to do, I see the Raptors do all the time," Ocol told CBC Toronto.

"Watching the Raptors in the finals is amazing. It's so awesome. I love it."

Ocol does not have a favourite player, but says "[Kyle] Lowry is pretty good."

Persephene Ocol, 15, says she fell in love with basketball as a kid and these days she gets inspiration from the Toronto Raptors. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

Fourteen-year-old Sym Elsanyoura has been playing basketball since she was seven.

She says she now watches the Raptors "all the time," and that she sees them as role models.

The teenager is over the moon about the Raptors making it to the finals, and she's predicting a four-game sweep for her favourite team.

"It's really important because it shows that they have our back and they're going all the way," she said.

Sym Elsanyoura, 14, has been playing basketball since she was seven. She's predicting a four-game sweep for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

Ocol and Elsanyoura were among more than 200 teenagers who took part in a teen basketball tournament on Saturday.

The league consists of about 50 girls and 200 boys. 

Following the Raptors' thrilling 118-109 victory over defending champions Golden State Warriors on Thursday, excitement is high ahead of Game 2 Sunday night at Scotiabank Arena.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp

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