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Ladies Newmarket basketball league 'a community' for 30 years

More than just playing basketball, the six-team league has created decades-long friendships; but amid the celebration is concern about finding a home for next season

Jackie Zicaro has been part of the Ladies Newmarket Basketball Association for more than 24 years.

The league has played at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newmarket throughout that time. Zicaro said she started getting involved with the association for the love of playing the sport and found it a welcoming environment.

“It is such a sense of community, a sense of belonging, that I never stopped. It was awesome,” she said. “It allows a lot of women a night to themselves.”

The association celebrated its 30th anniversary May 16. Dozens of players and supporters attended to watch two teams duke it out in the final, with many having supported the league for decades.

The adult league has six teams and 60 athletes who play every Thursday night at the high school, coming from all over York Region. Started in 1994 by Kate Lewis and Rita Novorolosky, the league offers a place for fitness, basketball skills development and a social atmosphere.

Kelly Ritson has served as treasurer and has participated for over 24 years. She said the ages of participants range from 25 all the way up to 62 years old.

“It’s a real community. We have some really good basketball, and we really like having fun and hanging out and socializing,” Ritson said. “Women are looking for leagues to play in … When women find this league, it’s like you don’t want to let go of it.”

The league has become cross-generational. Andie MacPherson plays the league today and attended to watch the league final, alongside her mother, Robin MacPherson.

“For someone who didn’t play basketball in high school, this is where I learned,” the elder MacPherson said. “The fact that my daughter is playing is pretty awesome, and I met the best people ever.”

“It’s fun to play with large generations of women,” the younger MacPherson said. 

Katie Riddell was one of the team captains playing in the final. She has played for more than 18 years.

“It’s a great group of women and a lot of fun,” she said. “Good reason to get out and get some exercise.”

But there was some discontent over the proceedings as the women reflected on what comes next for the league. As the season wraps up, the league is being forced to find a new home.

After decades of playing at Sacred Heart Catholic High School, it was unable to renew its permit with the York Catholic District School Board, leaving them having to turn to elementary school gyms that would not fit their needs as well.

Zicaro said the system recently changed to first come, first serve. She said she was there and ready when permits opened up for the next year online. But they were denied, with some other group apparently getting in ahead of them.

The fact that they had been there for 30 years made no difference now, Zicaro said.

“It’s just frustrating because we have had this for 30 years. It’s kind of an icon, really, in Newmarket,” she said. “It was really disappointing, and they wouldn’t budge.”

York Catholic District School Board said it receives far more requests for facility use than it can accommodate and created a more equitable, first-come, first-serve process two years ago.

"YCDSB staff have worked to find alternative spaces when applicants did not receive their first choice facility," the board said.

Still, players both young and old celebrated the occasion and the organization withstanding the test of time.

Jill Graham, who started playing in the second year of the league, said it is quality, and hopefully, they can eventually get the permit back.

“I’m super glad I was involved with the organization and the playing and just seeing all the women through the 30 years that it has run has been an excellent experience.”