Halifax Heroes: Colter Simmonds on starting something ‘bigger than basketball’
We Will Win Youth Association supporting North Preston’s youth socially, academically and physically
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When Colter Simmonds moved back to his childhood home of North Preston in 2006, he came with a one-way ticket and a dream.
He wanted to grow the youth program he had started in Toronto, an initiative created to bring together young men from rival communities through basketball.
“I wanted to create a program that would support young men both on and off the basketball court. Socially, academically and physically,” he recalled in an interview last week.
“I didn’t want it to be just basketball. I wanted to eventually move into other sports that are low cost so it isn’t too much of a burden for most kids to be involved.”
Not wanting to interfere with the North Preston Bulls Basketball program that ran during the winter months, Simmonds began running the We Will Win Youth Association (3WYA) in the community from April to October, the main recruitment times for Canadian and American colleges and universities.
“I wanted the organization, the 3WYA program, to be bigger than basketball. I wanted it to mean something,” he said.
Simmonds has an extensive resume that includes coaching at the university, NCAA and professional level throughout Canada and the United States. He still coaches the North Preston Bulls each winter.
Sitting behind a desk at the North Preston Community Centre where he works as a youth advocate worker, Simmonds is soft spoken and a bit uncomfortable talking about himself.
But he agrees to speak because he hopes drawing more attention to 3WYA might raise awareness and much-needed funds for the program.
“Part of the reason the program hasn’t really had a visual presence in the community is because I have a tough time with selling,” he said. “So I’d like to put it out there that we are looking for support to continue growing.”
From its first year with just six kids, all boys, 3WYA now has more than 60 young athletes. It boasts five boys basketball teams and one girls team that just started this spring. In addition to young athletes from North Preston, the association has attracted some youth from Halifax, Dartmouth, East Hants and even Lockeport and St. John, N.B.
Simmonds' goal is to have five boys and five girls teams so he can start expanding into other sports.
“Five years from now I’d like the organization to be recognized as the largest youth development program in Atlantic Canada for sure,” he said.
“We’re pretty close to that as far as what we do and our reach.”
The program has had many successes, both on and off the court.
But it goes beyond championship wins and the players who’ve been picked up by colleges and universities. Some are coaching at the NCAA and CIS levels and others are now teachers.
Simmonds said watching young people grow, develop, and keep on the right track is what keeps him going.
“Not everybody is going to play at the university or college level, but you want to see everybody have productive lives,” he said.
Between coaching, travelling to games and showcases and mentoring youth, Simmonds said he’s more or less “always” on call. But despite the fact his coaching work is unpaid, he said it never feels like work because its a passion.
“I wasn’t the best kid. A lot of the kids I deal with remind me of myself and I remember the teachers that quit on me…But I remember most and appreciate the teachers that every time I’d screw up and get suspended they’d be meeting me at the door on my first day back after suspension saying ‘Let’s get back on track,’” he recalled.
“I struggled a little bit in school at times and they showed me where my intelligence was. They did not focus on where I had weaknesses but focused on my strengths. I just feel like I have a responsibility to give back because someone gave to me.”
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Each week, we will profile an unsung volunteer hero in our community as part of Halifax Heroes. To nominate someone, email firstname.lastname@example.org, Metro Halifax's managing editor, or Tweet @metrohalifax using the hashtag #HalifaxHeroes