In the lobby of an Abbotsford middle school, Sylvia Smith opens a bag and out spill framed pictures, scrapbooks and memorabilia from the the early 1990s. The collection is faded, and the memories are fuzzy too, but they sharpen as Sylvia pages through a photo album.
In one monochrome picture, Sylvia and teammate Debbie Peters surround an opponent, all three battling for a basketball. Time is frozen. Possession of the grey sphere is all that matters.
Like so many years, the pages flip and flip, until the book closes on a college basketball career. The album – years 1988 to 1992 – is tucked back in the bag.
But the past has a way of seeping into the present.
Today, Smith stands beside Peters on the sidelines of an air-conditioned gym where, alone under a hoop, a 13-year-old girl in a practice jersey heaves balls at a distant rim.
At the centre of the gym, a taller 14-year-old girl giggles with a teammate.
Squint and you’ll see the resemblance. But watch the girls in action – witness Kyla Smith ripping the ball away from an opponent, or Nicola Peters driving the lane – and you’ll get a look back in time, to how the girls’ mothers competed.
Two decades ago, Smith and Peters played together for two seasons on a Trinity Western University team that was one of the top basketball squads in the country.
Now they’re back in the same basketball gym as their daughter, Kyla and Nicola prepare to take on the province in the BC Summer Games later this month as part one of the Fraser Valley’s two entries into the tournament.
One thing is for sure. The girls’ team will not be cowed.
Off the court, 13-year-old Kyla is well-adjusted, humble and apologetic, her mother says.
On the basketball court, it’s a different matter.
“She’s a bit of a beast on the court. She has made the defence cry.”
Kyla isn’t oblivious to this.
Ask her what drew her to the sport, Kyla says, “I like how you can go ‘beast mode’ and go crazy and aggressive.”
Sure, she also likes to pass the ball around and make plays, but it’s the competition and the contact that stand out.
Kyla and her two brothers, 15-year-old Cade (who will play baseball in the Summer Games) and 10-year-old Treyson, occasionally will try to play a basketball game. It doesn’t end well.
“It’s just a lot of fouls,” she says.
That beast might be unique to Kyla, but her mother says she sees some of herself shining through in her daughter – most notably her passion for the sport.
“I have totally enjoyed watching Kyla play basketball,” she said. “She is so aggressive and hard-working and she’s got a real great work ethic on the court.”
Nicola, 14, has the same drive and intensity.
She’s an on-court leader who can drive to the rim and use her 5’9″ frame. But ask her about her strengths, and the quick response is: “I’m really aggressive.”
Although Nicola has played a range of sports, none came as naturally to her as basketball, says Debbie, who is an assistant coach on the Summer Games team. (Kyla’s father, Tim, is the head coach).
Her aggression, physicality and court sense has always been there, says Debbie.
And while she can’t say how much of Nicola’s aggression, physicality and court sense is innate and how much comes from having watched her mother play, Debbie recognizes a little of herself in her daughter.
“She likes to be a leader and take charge a little bit. She likes to play to win.”
What is certain is that both Kyla and Nicola are already well ahead of their mothers’ skills at the same age.
Whereas Sylvia didn’t start playing basketball until she was in Grade 7, Kyla was dribbling a ball before she was in elementary school. Nicola too has progressed quickly after first picking up a ball more than seven years ago.
“She’s developed way more than I ever did when I was in Grade 8, that’s for sure,” says Debbie.
Sylvia joined TWU’s basketball program in 1988, with Debbie joining two years later. During their time together, the Spartans were ranked as high as 15th in the nation. Sylvia left the school in 1992; and in 1994, Debbie’s final year, TWU finished fourth in the country.
“It’s so long ago, it’s like another world,” Sylvia notes.
In the years since, the two women have crossed paths occasionally and both became physical education teachers. They’re at different schools – Sylvia at Alexander elementary school, Debbie at Mennonite Education Institute – but Sylvia happened to marry another MEI PE teacher.
Whether it was playing on a club basketball team in Abbotsford or watching their kids play volleyball on the same teams, their sporting lives have also regularly intersected.
“It’s amazing how the sports world will draw you together,” Sylvia says.
Now, the two moms are excited to be watching their kids competing together on a larger stage.
“It’s kind of fun to see that happening,” Debbie said.
Sylvia feels similar.
“It’s a proud moment as a parent to see your kid on the court,” Sylvia said. “Knowing how passionate we were about it, taking it to university level, seeing our girls start and being able to start way younger than we did is exciting.”
With the Summer Games approaching, there is no shortage of excitement.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s the experience of a lifetime,” Nicola said.
Kyla agrees and is confident their team, which lost just once in a recent regional tournament and boasts five Abbotsford players, will perform.
“Hopefully, we get to the finals and we can represent the Fraser Valley well.”
Both girls are looking forward to have their mothers cheer them on.
“I think it’s kind of cool seeing your ‘little-me’ playing,” Nicola said.
The BC Summer Games run from July 17 to 20 in Nanaimo. Nicola and Kyla are just two of dozens of Abbotsford-area athletes participating at the event.