OLD PERLICAN, NL — Basketball means a lot to Jeff Saxby, and the new principal at Baccalieu Collegiate is attempting to spread that love for the sport in a place that hasn’t seen a lot of hoops action over the years.
A native of Nova Scotia, Saxby was a star player for the Memorial University Seahawks for several years. He was named Atlantic University Sports’ rookie of the year in 2000 and was considered one of the best players in Atlantic Canada throughout his career with Memorial.
Today, he remains the men’s team’s all-time leading scoring. He also spent a season playing semi-pro ball in Germany following the end of his MUN career.
Saxby’s passion for the sport is still there. He plays in a Carbonear recreational league, but doesn’t push himself too hard in light of chronic knee problems.
And since becoming an educator, he’s shared his love for the sport with students just about wherever he’s been, including China, where he taught for several years.
“It’s a big part of my life,” he told the Compass last week.
This fall, Saxby arrived at the Old Perlican junior and senior high school as its second-ever principal, and found the school has never had a much of a reputation when it comes to basketball.
“I stand be to corrected, but I’m not entirely sure there’s ever been a basketball program at Baccalieu Collegiate,” said Saxby. “There has been a basketball program in Tricon (Elementary in Bay de Verde), and then after Grade 6 they’ve sort of been left in hiatus without continuing with basketball.”
This school year, Baccalieu Collegiate has three teams suiting up for action — junior girls and boys teams and a senior boys team.
“I actually had a comment (from a student) that it’s great to be back on the court, which is a beautiful thing to hear. Baccalieu Collegiate has got spectacular programming for our young adolescents, but basketball hasn’t necessarily been in the fold.
“Obviously, basketball has done a lot for me, but I also see basketball as sort of an art form like music. Once you get the fundamentals, you can really go deep into learning and expressing and being creative. In my biased opinion, it’s a sport unlike other sports, where you really can go deep into learning.”
Working alongside fellow Baccalieu Collegiate teaching colleague Jarratt Rose, Saxby is starting off with the modest goal of encouraging the players to have fun out on the court and feel engaged. From there, they’ll work with players on the fundamentals of the sport.
Saxby adds there’s a collaborative effort at play with other schools in the Trinity-Conception region. He noted there are a number of schools in a position similar to Baccalieu Collegiate when it comes to trying to drum up interest in basketball.
“We’re all building it together, which is of the utmost importance,” he said, acknowledging the geographical challenges of travelling to other schools for games.
But with experience, Saxby hopes in five years’ time Baccalieu Collegiate will find itself competing against the best teams in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I’m a competitor,” he said with a bit of a laugh. “It’s fun, but you can have a lot of fun winning and working hard too, right? But starting here, we need balance. There’s a teaching component to it.”
Already, the teams have reached some milestones. The senior boys squad recently competed in its first tournament, and the junior girls notched win number one.
“There’s milestones every time we step on the court,” Saxby said. “Players who’ve never played the sport or getting back on the court. We’ve got a diverse group competing.”