Metro Morning

Eastern: New film tells story of Toronto's greatest basketball dynasty

Toronto has been celebrating its Raptors, as the team enjoys record success this NBA postseason. But the Raptors have a very long way to go, if they hope to match the number of championships of one far less celebrated local team.

Long before the Raptors, there was Eastern Commerce and its perennial champion boys' team

A scene from Eastern, a new documentary about the basketball dynasty at the former east Toronto high school, which screens tomorrow at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (Tagwa Moyo/Canadian Sport Film Festival)

Toronto has been celebrating its Raptors, as the team enjoys record success this NBA postseason.

But the Raptors have a very long way to go if they hope to match the number of championships won by one far less celebrated local team.

For decades, the boys' basketball team at Eastern Commerce Collegiate schooled the rest of the nation in how to win at basketball, taking home more provincial and city championships than any other high school in Canada.

It's reputation was so formidable that the best teenaged players from all over the city enrolled at the school near Greenwood Avenue and Danforth Avenue. And dozens went on to win scholarships to US colleges.

But those glory days are gone forever. 

Last June, the school closed its doors because of falling enrolment. At the end, it had only 62 students.

But while Eastern Collegiate may be gone, it's legacy is living on, thanks to Luke Galati. He's a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University. And he documented the team's last season in a film called Eastern. It screens Saturday night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of the Canadian Sport Film Festival.

Galati spoke Friday with CBC Metro Morning's Matt Galloway about the film, and the team. Also in the studio was 
one of the players from that final season, Jason McDonald, who transferred to Eastern from Scarborough in his early teens.

'David and Goliath story'

"Especially in my area, bad things were going on," he said. "So I got out of Scarborough, went to Eastern and met a lot of people, a lot of basketball players. And got myself out of trouble."

McDonald shared his thoughts on the secret to the team's success. 

"Basketball at Eastern is different," he said. "You meet people who are all just as good as you are, so you have to learn how to become a team and win championships."

Galati said his aim was to find out how a school that had "literally the tiniest, most laughable gym in the city" became home to such a dynasty. In the end, he says it was the people who made the program great.

"It's almost a David and Goliath story; it shows that even if you don't have the best resources, what really matters is the people, and what they bring to the program, and how they care for the kids."


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