35 years of Wednesday night ball

By Britney Pagliuca

Each Wednesday at 7 p.m., individuals from all over the county gather in Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) gym for a night of pick-up basketball. Members of all ages lace up their shoes to participate in an evening of getting active, socializing and some friendly competition. 

The drop-in program began in 1988, originally run by Dan LaPierre, the assistant coach of the HHSS boy’s basketball team and former teacher at Archie Stouffer Elementary School. 

LaPierre said the program started as a night for teachers to play basketball together, but he had the idea of opening it up to the rest of the community. “Since then, the program has migrated from adults who were eager to play to mostly youth in the community,” LaPierre said. Though he and other folks who have helped keep the program running over the years still attend regularly.

“It’s a great opportunity for youth to learn from more experienced players and improve their skills,” LaPierre said. “We come to play, but we’re also there to coach.”

He added that it’s also important to show youth that participating in sports doesn’t have to stop after school. “It’s something they can do for the rest of their lives,” LaPierre said. 

Afterwards LaPierre retired, the drop-in program was run by Paul Longo, former head coach of the senior boy’s basketball team at HHSS. However, in 2021 the torch was passed on to someone new – a 26-year-old Hunter Smith, alumnus of the high school and their basketball team. 

Smith has been volunteering with the program for over five years and attending since he was in Grade 9. When Longo decided to pass along his responsibilities to someone new, Smith was a natural choice, and he’s in it for the long-haul. “Hopefully I can keep running the program for the next 20 years,” Smith said. 

Smith noted that programs like this are extremely important in a small town like Haliburton. “A lot of kids here don’t have access to extra curriculars or organized sports,” he said, “So this is a great way for kids and adults to interact, have fun and stay fit.” 

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment is clearly something Smith is passionate about too. As participants entered the gym Smith greeted each by name and throughout the evening gave words of encouragement and game advice.

In addition to taking on the responsibility of organizing Wednesday night basketball, Smith also became the head coach of the senior boy’s basketball team at HHSS last year. 

“Coaching has always been something I’ve been interested in doing,” Smith said. “Basketball has been a lifelong passion of mine and I’ve loved the new learning experiences that have come with being a coach.” 

He commented on how important school-organized sports are, noting that it is a great way to make friends, get involved and stay active. “It was my favourite part about going to school,” Smith said. 

He has high hopes for this year’s senior boy’s basketball team, with a goal of winning Kawarthas and maybe COSSA too.

Smith is an exceptional example of the influence that youth involvement can have in the county, and how important it is for young people to continue traditions and programs that promote community wellness.

“I remember when I was in school, I had such an appreciation for the people who were coaching and running programs like this for me. It is such a passion for me now that I don’t mind taking my time to give kids the same opportunities I was given,” Smith said, “It’s my way of giving back to Haliburton.”