By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 30 2018
When senior high school student Emily Domerchie is on the basketball court a calm comes over her and her worries disappear.
Over the last few years she’s tackled several challenges from complications in transferring credits to playing in basketball-crazy Racine Wisconsin on the Prairie School Hawks team.
One of her latest challenges was moving to the Highlands more than 1000 kilometres from Racine where she lived for nearly two years.
Now she’s tackling another one.
Domerchie is the lone girl on the Red Hawks boys’ basketball team.
There has been nothing but support for the five-foot-seven shooting guard.
Hawks coach Paul Longo said Domerchie is “a great addition to not only the team but the school” noting she is strong in athletics and academics.
“It’s worked out. She’s a very very talented player and fits right in to the boys’ game without any issues at all. She’s aggressive. She doesn’t shy away from any of the physical stuff and she has a very high basketball IQ. She’s been playing since she was five or six years old” he said.
Domerchie has led by example. As the season has worn on she’s been using her experience to provide suggestions to the coaching staff.
This isn’t the first time there has been a girl on a boys’ team. Close to four years ago the senior boys’ team had two girl players: power forward Jennifer Robinson and point guard Rika Takaki an exchange student from Japan. There hasn’t been a girls’ program in several years. Longo can’t think of another time a girl has played for the boys’ team in his 26 years teaching at HHSS.
Longo said there isn’t an issue now and there wasn’t an issue then either. It speaks to the inclusiveness of the sport.
“That’s great. It’s the idea that if you can play the game and you compete at the same level or even better then there is no issue” he said.
A few players weren’t sure about Domerchie at the start of the season Longo said.
“[At the start] some of the guys were … wondering [what] Emily would bring to the team and literally after the first 10 minutes of our first practice some of the guys were saying ‘yeah she can stay. She’s pretty good’” he said.
There haven’t been any issues related to having Domerchie play either from her teammates or with the Kawartha League.
Longo’s first exposure to Domerchie was in the summer during the basketball clinics led by former Hawks coach Gordon Cochrane. Longo thought Domerchie was a first-year college or university student based on her talent and maturity. When he learned she was a student he encouraged her to try out for the boys’ team.
Working at the scorers’ table during the team’s second home game senior student Kailynn Sikma said girls in the school want to see Domerchie do well. She likes seeing her friend compete with the boys.
“Every time she goes out [on the floor] we make a point to cheer for her. …When she got her first basket of the game today a lot of the girls screamed” she said.
Hawks captain Sam Longo who met Domerchie in the summer at the basketball clinics spoke highly of his teammate calling her one of the team’s stronger players. Although she is not a vocal player her strength is in her basketball knowledge and ability to remain calm under pressure.
“It’s good to have her because we’re pretty loud and lose-control-easily kind of team. She’s good to have … she’s calm and cool always” he said.
He commended his shooting guard for her solid fundamentals which he attributed to her experience playing high school and her competitive league experience which is not available to players here.
“It really shows. She’s just fit in really well as a friend and [a player]. She’s been really good” he said. “She’s been a really good addition to our team.”
The basketball court has been Domerchie’s place of solace.
“Every time I’m in a gym I don’t feel any stress which is the greatest part about it” she said.
“I’ve met the closest friends through basketball. It’s taught me a lot about teamwork and collaboration. I think it’s made me more resilient to my moves … I can’t see this as my last season” the Grade 12 student said.
The support here has eased the adjustment to a new school.
“It’s hard moving to new places. It’s hard missing your friends and the communities you were part of before but first of all it’s just made me more resilient. The first week I came here and looked for a job – I worked at Baked and Battered this summer which was pretty nice. I met some great people. Coming to a new community is hard but everybody here has been so kind and supportive. I will walk out on the court and people who are in my classes will yell my name which is great. Everybody has been really nice to me” she said.
Like anybody who loves basketball she just wants to play. And without a girls’ basketball program the boys’ team was all that was available. She wasn’t certain how people would respond to her being on the team.
“I thought maybe people would find that weird but nobody does. Everybody is like ‘wow it’s so cool you’re trying. I wish I tried that’” she said.
Her family moved to Racine from Waterloo Ont. for her father’s work. With the kind of visa her family had no one else in the family was allowed to work. Travel over the border was difficult so visiting extended family proved challenging she said. She welcomed the return to Canada. The family chose the Highlands because her father had great childhood memories and her parents wanted to retire here.
In the U.S. each game is a community event starting with a singer performing the national anthem a halftime show and children’s activities available. Like American sports shown on TV and movies there is often an intense coach who yells at his players and adoring community members at varsity team events she said.
She said it was strange at first to play in front of a crowd of some 500 fans in Wisconsin. Games were regularly held at 7 p.m. allowing the players to continue their studies and giving time for families to make it to the games.
“At first it made me nervous just playing in front of that many people and being new to the community. Almost everybody played some sort of sport. You’re really known by everyone which is kind of strange. They would talk about how you did in the game. I’d be out in the community and people would be like ‘wow that was a great game the other week’ … ‘OK nice to meet you.’”
Her school was small with about 270 students but still had three boys’ basketball teams and two girls’ teams. The teams had a no-cut policy so teams were large. Without a football team at the school basketball was the sport of choice.
It still amazes when she remembers the thousands out for the boys’ varsity team cheering from the stands. Much of the fanfare was attributed to highly-touted player J.C. Butler son of retired NBA all-star Caron Butler who was born in Racine.
This season in the Highlands was as much of an adjustment for her opponents as for her.
At first her male opponents played her differently easing off because of her gender until she would step by them on the dribble or find an open passing lane to a teammate. On one occasion outside of a game at a pre-season tournament in Renfrew a player from another school approached her and asked if she was the Hawks’ cheerleader. When she answered she was a player he quickly left slightly embarrassed.
Finding a place to change at schools during road games has proven challenging but is manageable and has been about the only gender-related issue she’s faced this season she said.
Domerchie has welcomed the challenges and believes it will make her a better player.
She’s adjusted to the faster pace of play and the greater overall athleticism of the boys who are taller on average than the girls she’s played.
An ongoing adjustment has been the weight and the size of the basketball itself. In boys’ basketball the ball is bigger and heavier.
“Adjusting to the weight is the most difficult thing still. I’m used to … when I’m open I take a shot but sometimes it doesn’t work out because I need that little extra time to get myself set and provide more power to the ball” she said.
Domerchie isn’t the only young woman playing in the Kawartha Boys’ Basketball League.
Caroline McCamus a shooting guard for the Crestwood Secondary School Mustangs senior boys’ basketball team in Peterborough earned a spot on the 15-player roster.
“We had 26 players try out for the senior boys’ basketball team and when the roster of 15 players was selected Caroline’s name was on that final list. She is athletic smart physically strong and mentally tough. She earned a role as a shooting guard on the team. Although we’ve had girls playing on male soccer and football teams Caroline is the first female athlete to play on a boys’ basketball team at Crestwood” coach Shawn Hughes wrote in an email.
Domerchie didn’t know about McCamus before the interview with the Echo but was pleased when she heard about her and hopes they can play against one another.
She doesn’t see any added significance to playing for a boys’ team.
“It’s just made me … stronger [is] the best way I can put it. A harder worker. It’s just a new experience and I’m enjoying it. I learned I just have to find a way to enjoy life even when these [challenges] happen” she said.