SPRINGHILL, N.S. – Faith Atkinson is learning about basketball, and life, at the U-13 Maritime Elite Girls Basketball Academy.
“Playing with the team has changed me. I push for what I want and realize not everything comes easy in life. You have to work for it,” Atkinson said.
The 13-year-old Springhiller was recently at the Springhill Foodland with her MEGA teammates selling hotdogs and hamburgers and packing groceries to raise money for upcoming basketball tournaments in Montreal and Atlanta, Georgia.
“I like how it’s not just about basketball, it’s also about developing life skills and making friendships that will last a lifetime,” Atkinson said. “You learn that life’s not about ‘me,’ it’s more about ‘we’ as a team.”
Her teammates are mostly from Halifax, but also from River John and East Hants.
Faith’s father, Paul Atkinson, is happy they fundraise in each other’s communities and learn about how each other lives.
“It’s not so much about fundraising, it's more about them coming here and seeing Springhill,” Paul said. “It’s about team spirit and being supportive.”
The girls practice twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, at Citadel High School in Halifax, and play at several tournaments throughout the spring and summer, the most recent being in New Hampshire.
They are under the guidance of general manager and assistant coach Lezlie States and head coach Rachel Ross.
“Lezlie is very community oriented and helps kids in the community, and Rachel is one of the nicest people you will meet but she is also very strict and organized,” Paul said.
Keeping their grades up is very important.
“There’s a study hall for one hour a day when we go away where we have to do our homework, and if we’ve finished our homework we have to read or write in our journals,” Faith said.
Paul says the girls stay with each other when they’re on the road.
“When the parents travel with the kids the program takes care of the kids. I don’t see Faith. The kids aren’t allowed in the parent's room, they stay together,” Paul said. “And they take their cell phones away from them at 9:30 p.m. so that they’re not on their cell phones all night.”
He says the academy teaches parents how to be more disciplined with their kids as well.
“One time, Faith was running behind, and I picked up her sneakers and the coach said, ‘put them down Paul.’ I had no problem with that because it’s making them more responsible,” Paul said.
“I’ve learned that parents accommodate kids too much and it takes away from them being disciplined and accountable and self-sufficient,” he added. “Faith is becoming more responsible. She doesn’t need me. She can do things on her own.”
The team recently ran up Citadel Hill three times in Halifax, and Faith pushed herself so hard that she threw up.
“The coach told them that they shouldn’t look up the hill and say ‘I have this problem to achieve’ but to, instead, look two or three feet ahead and break the challenge down to smaller steps,” Paul said. “That’s what the MEGA program is all about. It’s about teaching discipline, building confidence and helping the kids believe in themselves.”