Meet Keneca…she is the one who suggested that I complete the second chapter of my In Their Shoes Project with the Women’s Basketball team. I met her at the end of last summer when I spoke to the Residence Life Staff during their August training week. Keneca held the position of Varsity Link in residence where she was available as a mentor and support to first year varsity athletes.
Keneca has been playing basketball at Ryerson for four years and graduated this in June with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology. Last year she was named Female Athlete of the year at Ryerson. She is starting a Master’s degree program at Ryerson on Tuesday and is entering her last year of eligibility to play in OUA and CIS varsity sports. I know she had a number of options after graduating and deciding which path to follow was not easy but I am so glad she has returned to Ryerson for another season so I can get to know her better. She is a tremendous athlete, a involved student leader, and an accomplished student.
Keneca was born and raised in Winnipeg Manitoba. Her Mom was born in England to parents from Barbados and her Dad is from Jamaica. She also has siblings including two younger twin sisters who also play basketball. Her sisters are entering their last year of high school and are not surprisingly being heavily recruited by a number of universities.
I asked Keneca when she started playing basketball…
She said she spent a lot of time going to the Boys and Girls Club’s after school program in Winnipeg and started playing basketball there. As she got more into it she started playing with some of the older guys and was eventually asked to play on the Boys and Girls club rep team representing one area of the city which was her first competitive experience. That’s where it all started – she started playing more at school, played on the provincial team, played in the Canada Summer Games, won two championships with her high school team and then ended up at Ryerson.
One of the things that I am really interested in understanding is what it is that makes these young women give up so much – so much time, so much sweat and hard work, etc. to play varsity sports. For Keneca and I suspect most of the players on the team it really is about her “love for the game”. She said she just can’t go very long without playing…she said it is almost impossible for her to go too many days without playing, or being in the gym. She loves the game, loves being around her teammates and talked about the fun atmosphere within the team. Given how far she is from her own family the team is kind of like a second family or as we say at Ryerson her “Ramily” (our mascot is a ram). They are a key support system for each other which makes sense since they spend at least two hours a day together during the season and have to know and rely on each other so much on the court. Some of them have even lived together.
I asked her what she loves so much about basketball. She said its the life lessons that she has learned about accountability, compromise, and how to adapt to different personalities. She had her first “office job” this summer and found the lessons about how to get along with others learned in a team atmosphere helpful in adapting to her work environment.
When I asked Keneca why she chose to study Criminology she said she always had the goal of becoming a lawyer and she thought that this would be a good field to chose for her undergraduate degree. When I asked her when she knew she wanted to be a lawyer she laughed and told me about her love as a kid for a Jim Carrey movie called “Liar, Liar”, in which his character was a lawyer. This was her first understanding of the concept of lawyer but she also saw other youth in the area she grew up in get into trouble with the law or be harassed or discriminated against by law enforcement and she realized that the law could be an important vehicle for social change. I asked her how she avoided getting into trouble like they did and she said there was no time for her to get into trouble because all her time was devoted to basketball. She went to school and played basketball and hung around most with her teammates who wanted to do the same positive things that she wanted to do. In fact she has stayed connected with people from home and still visits the Boys and Girls club when she is there.
With her talent and success playing basketball I assumed that she had many options when choosing a university so I was interested in why she chose Ryerson. She said that she didn’t actually have the options that she normally should have because in grade 11 she had a serious knee injury – she tore her ACL and Meniscus. She had two knee surgeries before her last year of high school and she expected to be in rehab and recovery from the ACL surgery for a year. She also thought that this could be the end of her basketball career, but she was determined and decided she had too much potential to let that happen. She did as much rehab work as possible and worked with a trainer to get back into the same shape she was in before her injury. She said her brother had some literature about Ryerson based on his research into architecture schools. It caught her attention, she loved the idea of moving to Toronto and had some extended family here. She emailed the coach of the Ryerson Women’s basketball team and she sent some game tape of her playing before her injury. She visited Ryerson and York and the Ryerson coach told her he thought she had great potential and that the team that she would be recruited with was the team that was going to win the first OUA championship for Ryerson (in fact last season they came very close winning silver in the province). Part of why she decided to stay for a 5th year is because the team is so close to achieving what she feels she came to Ryerson to do 4 years ago. She also chose Ryerson for the Criminology program and received entrance scholarships due to her impressive high school grades.
I asked Keneca what she doesn’t like about basketball and the only thing she came up with was early morning practices. Unfortunately for her and the rest of the team, who I am sure don’t like them either, we have two early mornings in the schedule – 6 am. practices on Wednesday and 7 am. hill runs (or walks for me) on Thursday (but these are only for the first 5 weeks of the season).
I asked her about how she deals with disappointments like losing a key game. She said that tough losses are hard and they are a feeling that you never want to have again so you just have to use them as motivation to work harder and get better.
I am also fascinated by the coaching process and profession and am learning a lot about what it involves by watching the coaching staff of this team especially head coach Carly Clarke, so I asked Keneca what she has learned from Carly. She said she has learned patience and the importance of focusing on the process.
Last two questions were…tell me something about yourself that would surprise people?…all she had was “I am a really good ping pong player”. That didn’t really surprise me. And the last question was where she hopes to be in 5-10 years. There was no hesitation here…practicing law at a large law firm on Bay Street. Keneca says she is equally interested in Human Rights law and Corporate law…I guess what she wants to specialize in is something she will work out when she starts law school next year. I have no doubt she will end up exactly where she plans to after her varsity basketball career and time at Ryerson come to an end.