By Lachlan Ross, Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
September 5, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – ISN’s Lachlan Ross, a Camosun College Basketball player, provides this great insight into local Victoria business Passion Sports and his experience as an instructor at one of their popular summer basketball camps.
The George Elliott Secondary School gym on the outskirts of Kelowna had been a long, late night drive from Victoria, BC. I’m not usually a coffee drinker, but the questionably clean mug at the Super 8 continental breakfast stand was the first thing I grabbed at 7:00a.m. One of the regular coaches for the kids basketball camp had pulled out a few days earlier, so I was getting my first opportunity to coach for Passion Sports.
Coming off of my first season with the Camosun College Chargers, I had been hoping to coach more this summer. I returned in July from three months home in Australia, but found the Victoria based company had ample college and university players already on the job.
The high school gym’s fierce coyote murals looked down on the 24 eight to sixteen year-old kids as I handed out free camp t-shirts with the other two coaches. Pink, sky blue, grey, green, and yellow shirted kids then filled the court, branded with a “PS” on the chest and “I Work Harder” on their back. We introduced ourselves and told them our excitement in seeing progress at these camps. The six hour days would be tiring at times, but in just five days of basketball, with their hard work, results would show.
Passion Sports owner, Greg Wallis, poses in the Victoria based clothing store at Quadra and Johnson (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Owned by Camosun College and Simon Fraser University alumni, Greg Wallis, Passion Sports stemmed from “Hoopla” camps Wallis had run with Camosun teammate, Jordan Brown, over the summers of 2005 and 2006. But when Wallis moved to play at SFU, the Hoopla owner wanted to keep ties with Camosun players meaning Wallis no longer had his summer job. Wallis and Brown decided to form their own camp called Passion Sports, taking the name and logo from t-shirts they had printed and sold at the Hoopla camps to gain a few extra bucks.
As the camps started to grow over the next two summers, Wallis says he could see the impact he was making and the potential to turn Passion Sports into a viable business. The thought of coaching kids basketball was, “so much cooler than the idea of studying for another five years,” says Wallis, who was a kinesiology student at SFU planning a career in physiotherapy or sports medicine. In 2011, when Brown moved on to other ventures, Wallis was pleased to buy his half, becoming sole owner of Passion Sports.
Passion Sports owner, Greg Wallis, poses in front of the jerseys he wore over his successful career. They now hang in his office as mementos of his hard work on the court (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Our goal on day one was to see what level each kid was at. Running a camp that has such varying age and experience levels, simply splitting kids into groups of 8 to 11-year-olds and 12 and up wouldn’t get each player what they needed. We started the session by teaching basic layups and then expanding on different types of finishes for advanced kids. I took the younger group for this drill and was shocked at how good two of my 10-year-old girls were. The two of them made almost all of their layups with perfect footwork, while most of the boys struggled. I noticed one 10-year-old boy in particular who listened to everything I taught him, yet just couldn’t put it all together. If I said to step his left foot followed by his right foot before the shot, he would copy me, but his feet would turn at angles rather than straight, leading to an off balanced miss. Despite his struggle, the boy was still enjoying himself. It was obvious by the laughter and the smiles around the gym – especially after a made shot and a hi-five – that the kids were loving it.
“As a coach, I get great pleasure out of teaching the kids the fundamentals of the game,” says my fellow camp coach, 18-year-old Liam Horne. “But most of all [I get pleasure out of seeing] how to have fun while you’re playing, because that’s really what keeps you playing.” After finishing his high school career in 2013 at Oak Bay High School as one of Vancouver Island’s top prospects, Horne will join the Vancouver Island University Mariners for the 2013-14 season. Horne was at the first Hoopla camp with Wallis and Brown. “That’s the first camp I ever went to that showed me if I worked hard I could really become a great basketball player.”
“It’s pretty amazing to see guys who have done the camp, now come back and coach the camp,” says Wallis. “Probably the coolest thing is seeing kids who were in it from the beginning, that are now coming up and playing college or they’re having really good high school careers. Right now is kind of the peak of it because kids have gone from grade six or grade seven [at the first camps], to now being in grade twelve.”
Wallis also understands his coaches’ needs. During their off-season, a university and college athletes’ main goal is often to earn money, while still having to find time to hone their sporting skills. “Being able to come back in the summer and put on camps was not only good for [the kids], but also good for my game too,” says Wallis reflecting on his playing days, “because I would have a ball in my hands six hours a day. It can be exhausting sometimes, but at the end of the day you get paid to show kids how to play basketball, which is a pretty sweet deal.”
The Passion Sports clothing store and office on Quadra and Johnson in downtown Victoria sells Passion Sports basketball gear, t-shirts, and hoodies (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“The growth [of Passion Sports] is in the clothing line,” says Wallis. “You can only run so many camps in a year without thinning it out or trying to have too many going at once. Obviously travel is an issue because you can’t be spending thousands of dollars to go further and further away when you are located in Victoria. Hopefully what kids have been able to get out of the camps, being able to work hard, they will be able to get the same idea out of something as simple as an ‘I Work Harder’ t-shirt.”
Chewing my sandwich during the day three lunch break, I watched that same 10-year-old boy in his Passion Sports camp shirt practice dribbling two balls and smiled. The first day he had struggled with dribbling just one ball at any speed, but his determination was clear. On day three, I had spent 20 minutes with him working on two balls at once, focusing on his weaker left hand that continued to lose control. In the afternoon session he asked to work on it again by himself instead of playing British Bulldog with the other younger kids of the camp. The two other coaches and I had really stressed the “I Work Harder” Passion Sports motto, but seeing him put it in practice was great. I remembered hours upon hours in my backyard passing a ball off the wall then shooting it. Along with persistence on my part, I have to admit I was lucky to have patient parents and neighbours to tolerate the bounce-bounce of the ball on the paved ground day in and day out.
“When I was playing you could see the direct relationship between how much time and effort you were putting in and what you would get out of it,” says Wallis. “Now that I haven’t been playing for four years, you can see how that [time and effort] translates from basketball to business or whatever job you have or anything you want to do… I try to tie that back in so the kids can understand it, so they see how much better they get from working on their ball handling skills for a week, [so they can] imagine if they worked on school that hard for even just a week and see that improvement.”
Greg Wallis with his Passion Sports office team: Katie Wallis, Brent Wallis, Corbin Roed, Chris Abra, and Dan Tang (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
At the end of day three, the boy’s mom came to collect him and I told her he had something to show her. He followed me across the court, both balls pounding the floor in unison. Walking backwards, I called at him to remember his left hand, and with each reminder he put an extra push into the hand that that morning had continually pushed the ball off his foot and out. I continued backwards, shocked that we were three-quarters of the court away from our starting point. A few more dribbles and he picked up both balls. I ran up and hi-fived him, telling him to look how far we’d come. He turned and looked back at his mom, who stood at the other end of the gym. Her eyes lit up with a smile wider than the ground he’d just covered. It was a moment when they were both able to forget radiation therapy and the floral kerchief that hugged her head.
Wallis says he loves being in a job that can involve his wife, family, and friends, while helping student-athletes earn summer cash and pass their passion to the future. “It’s kind of just an ever going circle of being able to help people out.”