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High hopes for new club offering free hoops

Sponsors, donations drive North Vancouver-based VK Basketball Club
VK Basketball Club
Players and coaches of the newly formed VK Basketball Club pause for a group shot on the High Knoll in Coquitlam’s Minnekhada Regional Park. The North Vancouver-based club is offering free play for five girls teams. photo supplied

In an age when participation in high-level sports can leave families with bills that quickly run into the thousands each year, one new North Vancouver-based basketball club is attempting to change the game with an elite program that is free for all who make the cut.

VK Basketball was founded by long-time North Shore hoops coach Anthony Beyrouti and is already up and running with five girls teams hitting the gym in the past few weeks, ranging from U13 to U17. The spring/summer program, slated to include trips to tournaments as far away as Oregon, Oakland and Los Angeles, is fully funded by sponsors and donations, led by the Onni Group, a development company owned by the North Shore’s De Cotiis family.

“We just want to provide a platform for kids to be able to work hard and get better and grow their games without having to worry about the financial restrictions that might come up,” said Beyrouti, an entrepreneur whose ticket brokerage company is heavily involved in the club (hence the VK Basketball moniker). “Instead of charging kids to play basketball, we’re getting corporate sponsorship to cover the cost of the programming so the kids don’t have to pay and it’s affordable and accessible for everyone. … We’re trying to take the business mentality to the non-profit sector so we can have the efficiency that would allow it to grow substantially faster than a traditional model that non-profits have to run with.”

Beyrouti said he’s had some explaining to do to people who can’t fathom how a program could run without charging players for transportation, hotels, practice times or tournament fees.

“It’s different, right?” he said with a laugh. “It’s something new. Whenever something is new people have questions, but we’ve answered them. It’s an opportunity for us to give back to the community we’ve been a part of our whole lives. It’s a bunch of local people getting together and trying to get kids to understand the values that we learned when we were growing up.”

Sports have always been a big part of his life, said Beyrouti, and he and his partners want to help others experience that same thing. 

“I learned a lot of my life lessons when I was in elementary school,” he said. “We had a principal at Holy Trinity (elementary) who was very focused and demanding, and that allowed me to learn those lessons. And so I’ve used those lessons from basketball that I played in elementary school to help in the rest of my life. If I learned those lessons from sport, we want to be able to pass those down to other people in the future, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The club has recruited an impressive group of coaches led by basketball co-ordinator Paul Langford, head coach of the powerhouse senior girls program at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside secondary, and managing director Jenna Ralston, who was named a CCAA All-Canadian and the PacWest Player of the Year when she played for the Capilano Blues in 2013. Paul’s brother Bruce, head coach of the women’s team at Simon Fraser University, is also on board along with other big names such as Quest University women’s coach Dany Charlery, SFU assistant Jessica Wallace, and Chris Kennedy, the former B.C. boys high school basketball president who is now superintendent of the West Vancouver school district.

The teams have already been selected with some big North Shore names on board, including Georgia Swant who scored 44 points for Argyle in the junior girls provincial championship final last month, and Kayla Klug who helped the Seycove senior girls win silver at the AA provincial championships. 

The long-term plan for the club is to create a sort of pay it forward mentality where families that go through the program will make donations that will create an endowment for future growth that could include more teams as well as a boys program, said Beyrouti.

“(Traditionally) you pay for your kid, and when they’re done it’s over. What we want is we’re going to pay for your kid, but if you want to donate, your money will now pay for generations of kids to play in the future. This isn’t a one-year thing, we want it to be a long-term thing. We want to take the money that you donate and we want to make it so that you can help not just your kid, but several kids.”

Beyrouti said they’ve already had a good response from the public with donations coming into the program from corporate sponsors as well as individuals.

“It’s kind of a changing of the business model. We still need to raise more money and we still need to continue to grow, but it’s nice to see people give voluntarily,” he said. “What we want to do is make it so that it lasts forever. So far we’ve had some good buzz, it’s been great. We just want to keep the train momentum going so that three or four years from now we’re self-sustainable and we can just build and grow and have more kids playing.”

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