Yen-kit (Francis) Yee is giving back to his community with his love of family and basketball.
When restrictions were lessening during the COVID-19, the New Westminster father wanted to spend more time with his sons after staying inside for the longest time without a lot of physical fitness activity.
As time passed, he realized, aside from high school and university, there wasn't a lot of options for other youth to participate in club basketball that provided similar training.
Most athletes have looked to programs across Metro Vancouver, but some charge hundreds of dollars.
So, in 2022, Yee started a club team of his own: the New West Eagles.
Its mission: to provide young athletes passionate about the game with an accessible program that includes competition, training and team benefits without families paying a single nickel.
"First and foremost, my motivation comes from an incredible passion for basketball which I developed since I was 12 years old," Yee, 44, explained in an interview with the Record.
"It was a different time back then. There were not really any organized club teams where you could play all year round like it is now. Yet, I still found myself on the outdoor courts seemingly day and night, rain or shine. It was a great way to stay active and hang out with friends while keeping out of trouble....Our program is structured to help players build basketball skills to allow for high level competition and timeless life skills such as team work, perseverance, communication, and dedication."
Community sitting courtside
So how is a club basketball program, when interested athletes are normally expected to pay for the perks, considered "accessible?"
Yee, a Glenbrook neighbourhood resident and 1997 New Westminster Secondary (NWSS) grad, has been able to obtain support from the city, local businesses and individual donors to cover the costs.
As a result, 30 teens have been able to participate with the Eagles since its inception. As Yee is the only coach thus far, the current roster is made up of kids aged 15 and younger.
Yee explained he's had to rely on word of mouth since the first season to garner interest in the team and produce a full line-up.
"As a result [of community support], the basketball program has provided players opportunities to access gymnasiums for practices, registration to high level tournaments, team gear (hoodies, backpacks, basketballs, t-shirts, etc.), and organized team bonding events," he said.
"The program [has] provided tournament quality indoor basketballs to players and access to training equipment such as blocking pads, shooting aids, dummy defenders, weighted dribbling gloves and more."
The Eagles' skill on the court has transcended at tournaments across B.C.
The team, in just two years, has been promoted from the bronze to gold division of club basketball competitions in B.C.
While a trophy has yet to be hoisted, Yee believes the Eagles are all about growth and opportunity for the young athletes
"I have had many coaches, referees, and parents over the last two years comment on how impressed they were with how our players carry themselves on and off the court or how well they competed under a variety of circumstances - even if they lost by 15," he said.
"More than that though, the program purposefully integrates basketball training with mentoring and life skills education that can transfer far beyond time on the court and help youth develop into engaged and responsible citizens."
Yee's goals for the 2023-24 campaign are to enhance relationships and to positively influence players to make meaningful decisions on and off the court.
At the end of the day, Yee is grateful to continue a passion since he was 12 years old.
"It means a lot to me to be able to provide another season of basketball (my first love) in New Westminster. The players have had an incredible experience in terms of competition, growth, and friendships. So to be able to give back to this great community in this way is an honour."
New West Eagles partners include the city, Caterina Restaurants, TD Bank, Wesgroup, Westminster Toyota and Altus Group.