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Pastor coaches, mentors and witnesses on the basketball court

May 12, 2011 No Comment

Rev. Mark L. Smith gives some advice to the team.

PLUMAS, Man. – The senior boys’ basketball team at William Morton Collegiate (WMCI) in Gladstone enjoyed a boost when Zion pastor Rev. Mark Smith stepped in to join coach Cale Dunbar. “He’s very experienced and he’s really turned the team around,” said Dunbar, “so the last half of the season, the boys have been playing fairly well. We’ve beaten a couple of ranked teams in the last couple of tournaments.”

Rev. Smith previously played professional basketball in Australia and also enjoyed success as a coach in Papua New Guinea, leading a women’s provincial team to their first-ever national championship. After his arrival in Manitoba last fall, he accepted the offer to become WMCI’s high-school basketball coach and quickly improved an inexperienced team. Zion member Donna Lach, whose son Eric played on the team, notes that Rev. Smith “turned a mediocre team into an excellent one. He taught them the enthusiasm for playing this sport, and he amazed us with his knowledge and understanding of the game.”

The pastor has been quite a mentor for the team as well. “Early in the season,” says Lach, “he heard the boys talking to the school coach in a manner he didn’t think was very respectful. He spoke to the boys about it in the locker room, and it made a huge impact.” She adds, “Cale [Dunbar] also shared with us how inspiring pastor’s pre-game talk is to the boys in the locker room. He has high expectations for them and they rise to it.”

The team was guaranteed a spot in the provincial basketball championships, hosting the event March 18-19. But, Coach Dunbar acknowledged, knowing that was a daunting proposition at the start of the year. “To be quite honest,” he admitted, “at the start of the year, I wasn’t overly optimistic about our chances…We wanted to represent ourselves well at home.” After a slow start to the season, the team rebounded when Rev. Smith came in to coach. Although the school is nearly half the size of the others in its division, they finished in second place, a buzzer-beater away from winning their first league championship. They also finished the regular season ranked fifth in Class “A” of the province.

The team also finished fifth at the “A” basketball provincials, losing a close and exciting game in the opening round, but finishing well in the consolation bracket. Although they fell short of their goal of provincial championship, the team found the whole season most rewarding under Rev. Smith’s coaching, all sharing this sentiment with him in the locker room after the game.

Rev. Smith always wore his clerical collar on the court, and noted what a difference that seemed to make: people would approach and open up to him, giving him opportunity to witness. He has made a difference in the community, especially with the boys (whose demeanour people commented on), as a positive leader, role model and example.

With files from Donna Lach, The Central Plains Herald-Leader and The Carberry News-Express

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