The teams, the fans and the Holy Spirit



A red bristol board at the main entrance of Redeemer University College reads ‘This Week in Ancaster’ in large hand-written bubble letters. Underneath that was blank space on the red bristol board. To the right of the sign, a hand-made display saying ‘What to do at Redeemer’ with cute laminated pictures and typed out descriptions suggests relaxing at the waterfront in Hamilton, hiking to the waterfall in Hamilton and savoring a great cup of coffee at one of Hamilton’s many local coffee shops. The school also suggests exploring on your own.

It’s about 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before reading week for the majority of Ontario colleges and universities. The halls of Redeemer echo hollow chatter of trips to visit grandparents, friends and relatives in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. While many are planning a week of detox from school-life, there’s still many kids who are sticking in the area for that week.

It’s the last regular season game for Redeemers Royals men and womens’ basketball teams. Both of them already securing a position in the OCAA’s basketball playoffs; women for the first time. While the stands are half-filled by half-time during the women’s game, there’s a certain level of tension in the air between Redeemer women’s team and Mohawk’s.

Most college campuses would likely be completely cleared by the time evening comes around but Redeemer went from a post-secondary education institution to a community hub by 7 p.m.

It’s due to the community setting. The town is small; it’s population is a little over 40,000. The school was about a 15-20 minutes. Uber drive from the Hamilton GO station. On the drive down Garner Rd. E. There are a few houses spread out across the dimly lit road, a golf course, a gas station but not really much else.

It has a boarding school-esque vibe to it where students must live on campus for the first year if they are 21 and under.

For many the small-town community has its appeal. It’s how women’s basketball coach, Robert Hooper, recruited their star player, Jesseca Brown, to the Royals.

“[The selling point to go to Redeemer was] the size, it’s really small and I’m used to the small community because I come from an island of 2,400 people,” says Brown.

This past January, Brown topped the OCAA’s Record Book as the leagues all-time career points leader. A bar that was set a year prior from a women’s volleyball player from Redeemer, as well.

During the game against Mohawk College, she was either being guarded by two players at once or she was guarding two players at a time.

She’s had a major impact on Redeemer’s women’s basketball team. From a tiny island off of the east coast, she’s managed to bring a team with an 87-game losing streak to now, a team in the OCAA basketball playoffs.

It was through another small community that Hooper scoped out the east coast talent. Both Hooper and Brown are originally from Grand Manan, N.B., a very small island in the Bay of Fundy. He’s from the part of the island where she’d take a ferry to her high school.

He first arrived to Redeemer five years ago, a year before Brown. The women’s team at the time was not what it was today. According to students as well as other members of athletics department, there was no support for the women’s team until recently.

He was faced with adversity while trying to recruit in Ontario. The school is relatively unknown, the team wasn’t the strongest and it’s in the middle of nowhere. It was a difficult pitch to players within Ontario especially when recruiters from stronger teams had more to offer.

His history as a basketball player in Grand Manan led him to connections with many of the coaches on the island. While looking for prospects, he was informed of a star player hidden in the Bay of Fundy.

“We have a bit of an odd bond. People actually think she’s my child. She’s not my child.” Hooper says while breaking out into a joking smile. “We’ve just become very close. She’s from where I’m from and we sort of get it.”

The population of their hometown is about .4 per cent of Brampton, Ont. and about three times the size of Redeemer College’s populace. Nonetheless, the small community on campus was familiar enough for her to turn down her offer to be closer to home at Memorial University and pursue basketball at Redeemer.

The population of the college is roughly 800 and the actual school itself looks like a public elementary school in the suburbs. So yeah, it’s small.

“[On Fridays] you’re either leaving the campus or if you’re here, sports are pretty much your thing,” Hooper says.

“Lots of the rookie players live with non-athletes. their dorm mates will get on board and come with big cardboard signs.” Hooper says, “Even if the girl they live with isn’t a starter, they still come with their number on a board and a picture.”

The players for the Royals are like local celebrities of sorts in that way. Coach Hooper even says the school’s community is so tight-knit that everyone knows each other or knows of each other through a mutual friend.

“If Jess went downtown Hamilton or Square One [in Mississauga], any of the 799 students would see her at the mall they would go talk to her. And they’d know each others name,” he says.

It’s small gestures as recognizing each other that show the support the school gives its sports teams.

Even with half-filled stands at the game, you could hear the crowd chanting ‘Jess’ when she had the ball. Hooper says she’s used to it though. Growing up in Grand Manan draws parallels for Brown although she has witnessed the fandom get over the top.

She says during last years’ men’s basketball playoff game, Royal fans filled the stands, singing an interpolation of ‘When the Saints come marching in’, banging large drums and even bringing out the school mascot.

“This is the only fanbase I’ve ever seen that breaks out in song, ‘When the Saints Come Marching in.’”  Jerome De Schiffert says. “I’ve never heard that in any other gym”

The school spirit runs so high that the excitement surrounding the basketball games at Redeemer brings back alumnus parents to the gym. Jerome De Schiffert’s kids have already graduated from Redeemer. His three sons all played with the Royals for the basketball or soccer team.

“The games here are just so exciting that now even though our son doesn’t play we still try to catch as many as we can. It’s electric in here every time.” says De Schiffert. His investment in the game showed when the women’s team were struggling in their last quarter and his face grew with intensity as he rubbed his face in stress.

“It’s such a tight knit community. I mean, I’m a high school guidance counsellor, I get to see a lot of campus’ and stuff but I’ve never seen the kind of cohesiveness that you see here.”

While the school’s spirit is definitely much higher than most even this kind of fandom is only brought out for special occasions. Colin Wouda, third year environmental studies and media communications student at Redeemer, says the fandom has changed since he first enrolled into Redeemer. The face-painting and fan merch at games have died down since his first year.

“It’s more of a relationship with the team itself; getting to know the teams and be able to cheer for your friends and your acquaintances.” says Wouda.

If you’re in your first year at Redeemer, the games are the ‘it’ spot, according to Wouda.

“Back in my first year, if you were on campus and you didn’t show up to the games, that wasn’t the ‘cool’ thing to do,” Wouda says outside of the gym after the men’s game.

More so than fitting in he says it’s really boils down to becoming a support system for the their teammates and friends on the court.

“Being a smaller school, you get to know a lot of people on the team, which makes it all that more exciting when you get to see them make some big plays,” Wouda says.

Today the support is more an emotional investment of each person in the stands. The chanting, the clapping, the screaming, the sighs and the overall energy from the crowd bounces off the walls.

“Everyone knows everyone and everyone’s friends with everyone here so they’ll come to the games to support,” says Brown.

Being a Christian Reform school is another factor that makes Redeemer unique. Although the school is not exclusively Christian, walking through there’s a lot of religious figures such as a life-size bronze replica of Jesus on the cross.

It’s been argued by some writers that the etymology of the world ‘religion’ is derived from the Latin word religare, which means ‘to bind.’ So to bring it full circle, the argued definition itself parallels the way sports brings Redeemer’s community together as much as their faith.

On the Royals website, it says they hope their athletes play by a tagline, “Whatever you do” derived from Colossisans 3:23. Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as working for the Lord.

For Brown and the women’s basketball team, they have a group prayer in the locker room prior to games.

“Being a Christian University, playing for God is the number one thing that we do,” says Shawn Brus, a fourth year math major and volleyball player for the Royals. But aside from bringing God with them every time they play, it boils down to the community formed at the school.

“Also, it’s a sweet opportunity [playing for] a really small school [with] a tight knit community. You get to know all the players on all the teams. You’re watching your friends play.” says Brus.

Despite where they rank and where they  may lack in size compared to other schools in the province, they compensate in the attitude and compassion.

Even Hooper realized this after he first started as coach at Redeemer five years a go. His history includes coaching shooting at the University of Guelph and Brock University. Both schools with much larger populations and much more athletic resources available.

“My version is what you miss in sort of bricks-and-mortar is made up [by] people will go the extra mile, people who work hard.”

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