Basketball league of fierce competitors who remain friends

It’s 8 o’clock on a Sunday night. Two teams appear to be in mortal combat at a high school gym in Courtice, Ont. The teams are merely distinguished by their green or blue jerseys, but that doesn’t mean these men play lightly. The players scream at each other, as well as the referees. Every ref call gets the green team up off the bench yelling.

League convenor, Wayne Menzie, 40, says the games are meant to be fun, but the players take it very seriously.

“This league here is one of the most competitive leagues in Durham (Region),” Menzie said.

The East Side City Warriors basketball club was created 11 years ago and he has players who have been in the league since it started. Menzie works at a plastic factory from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, but says he’s still in the gym seven days a week. He wears a Michael Jordan tattoo on his calf and is extremely proud of the league.

“It’s a draft league, so you can’t have one team come out and dominate, winning by 40 points, because no teams will want to play. (You’re on) a different team every year, (but) you’re still playing with guys that you know and like,” Menzie said.

The blue team would go on to win the Sunday night game. Kedar John, 24, and Mark Dalleh, 22, played on the winning blue team. These players pay $200 to play in this league, once a week, and give it all they’ve got.

“I just like playing basketball and I use this team to keep busy,” John said. “I know I’m going to go to college or university soon for basketball, so I like to use this league to keep my skills sharp. When I go back to college, I’ll be in proper shape.”

John’s been playing basketball since elementary school and has met many people through the sport. According to Solutions Research Group and Statistics Canada, basketball is the fastest growing sport for kids aged 5-14. John’s teammate, Dalleh, credits one player for making himself a competitor.

“I play for the competition and for the fun,” Dalleh said. “Growing up, I was very competitive. Vince Carter was my favourite basketball player and he inspired me to get involved in the game.”

This basketball league is full of passionate players, including the convenor.

“Everybody wants to win. Nobody wants to lose,” Menzie said. “I’m one of them and I’m 40. I hate losing.”

Menzie is happy to have a league full of competitors. He goes as far as saying he believes it’s the most competitive in Durham Region.

“There’s a league in Ajax; there’s a league in Pickering at Dunbarton (high school),” Menzie said. “There’s also a competitive Wednesday league at Sinclair (Secondary School) in Whitby. But I think my league is the most competitive out of all of them.”

After the game, the players showed their sportsmanship by shaking hands and exchanging laughs. Though he has a busy life with school and work, Dalleh said his teammates enjoy a longstanding friendship.

“(It’s) the chemistry,” Dalleh said. “We all have everything in common.”

Dalleh and John carpooled to and from the game, since they both live in Ajax. John has known Dalleh since elementary school when they met playing basketball on the driveway of their current team captain. And over the years, they never lost contact.

“We grew up with each other so we know how each other play,” John said. “I know their weaknesses and strengths and they know mine.”

Menzie coached John in the past and neither knows when he might stop playing.

“It means everything,” John said. “It’s been keeping me busy. It’s been a really important thing in my life because it keeps me grounded and focused. … I definitely will keep playing until my knees give (out).”