There is an enduring image of the Maritime Women’s Basketball Association captured by Moncton-based photographer Tanya Everett.
It shows Kelly Vass of the Moncton Mystics anxiously anticipating an embrace from her daughter, Leah Austin, following an MWBA game last season.
The photo spoke more than 1,000 words.
It spoke volumes about what the MWBA has meant to so many as it embraces its second year with six teams across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Everett has been shooting sporting events for years, but the second the shutter clicked that day, she knew photographic gold was mined.
The sheer joy on Vass’ face is what the Moncton organization symbolizes, said the photographer.
‘That photo is my favourite from the Mystics’ first season,’ said Everett. ‘The team has a huge following of family and friends which is amazing. The girls had shirts made for all the kids that year. Kelly’s daughter ran to her after the game, and I snapped the photo. When I looked at the back of my camera, I almost cried right there in the middle of the court with the team, their family members and fans all around. I am so blessed to be able to capture images like that for the teams I work with. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that is frozen in time with a photo forever.’
For Vass, the return to play has been an outstanding success.
An Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association stalwart with St. Thomas University Tommie’s and Moncton’s Crandall University Chargers, Vass has embraced everything about her return to the sport she loves.
Family is a critical part of that overwhelming sensation of being back on the floor in a competitive environment.
‘One of the reasons for the league’s success is the tremendous support it has received from families, children, and the community at large,’ said Vass. ‘For many players, having their loved ones in the stands cheering them on makes all the difference.’
Which is exactly why Vass’ face lit up the camera waiting for her daughter to rush her arms.
‘Experiencing this first-hand and the joy of having my daughter Leah come to the games and support me is what it’s all about,’ she said. ‘It’s been so great having her there. To be able to show her that I am still able to play competitively and also be a mom. Having this opportunity to play in front of my family and friends is so much fun. I could not be happier to be able to show my family how much I continue to love this sport.’
Vass said the league and her Mystics have 100 per cent embraced family while showcasing a vast array of talent across the six teams.
‘The team as a whole has noticed the impact that having families and children in the stands has had on the league,’ she said. ‘It’s amazing to see kids coming out to watch us play. It’s a great way to get them interested in basketball and to show them that there are opportunities to play at all levels. The support from the community has been crucial to the league’s success. People recognize that women’s basketball deserves a place in the spotlight, and they’re excited to support the athletes who are playing at a high level.’
Fredericton’s Laura Oldford has two basketball-playing daughters.
They are huge Freeze fans and a Tweet prior to a Fredericton home game caught Fredericton’s management’s eyes, leading to a post-game meeting.
Both children were presented with signed Freeze jerseys.
‘Our girls love watching their role models and youth coaches play and the sense of community the league inspires is amazing,’ said Oldford. ‘I worry my girls will leave the community of sport and basketball as they get older. It’s programs like the MWBA that will support my girls to stay in the sport.’
The availability of players across the league is also a big bonus.
‘My daughters get to watch elite basketball while with the players at halftime or after the game,’ said Oldford. ‘It’s something I only wish was available when I was growing up.’
Across the MWBA landscape, the scene is very familiar.
You will see young children in Windsor with signs supporting the Edge. Halifax Thunder has a remarkable following as many members of the organization’s long-time youth programs flock to games. Halifax Hornets apparel is remarkably popular in a busy city, and you’ll see minor basketball players and their parents at Port City Fog outings.
Jen Lloyd of Halifax is the MWBA’s officiating director and shares referee assignments with Adam Humphrey of Fredericton.
She has officiated in numerous leagues and championships, but is a key member of the MWBA.
‘There are so many positives, thanks to the MWBA,’ said Lloyd. ‘Seeing females as leaders in so many aspects of the league and being able to watch players grow and mature through basketball is an empowering environment.’
Much focus is on the players and fans, but Lloyd said the league is a tremendous boost for officials, too.
‘Having a high level league to allow officials to continue to learn from mentors and perfect their craft from receiving coaching and feedback is a huge boost to all of us,’ she said. ‘I wish this league had been around when I finished my playing career. The basketball community continues to be positive and energetic, a great environment to be in, thanks to the MWBA.’
We’ll let Vass have the last word.
‘As the league continues to grow, it’s clear that support from families, children, and the community will be essential,’ she said. ‘Whether it’s through cheering in the stands, volunteering, or simply spreading the word about the league, everyone can play a part in helping these talented athletes succeed.’
The Mystics – and Everett – are preparing for their MWBA home and season opener Thursday.
Moncton welcomes Port City to town, a 7 p.m. start at Harrison Trimble High School.
The Fog enters 1-1.
– Moncton’s Kelly Vass awaits a big hug from daughter, Leah (Tanya Everett Photo)