Allie Chalke Blogs for UNB: "Thirteen"
Seniors night last weekend was awesome. Having only been here for two years I felt like a bit of an intruder, but the girls who have been here longer were kind enough to share the special day with me. After the game the four of us and our parents went out for a celebratory dinner and then went back to the Currie Centre to see the volleyball boys win AUS. Congratulations boys!!
When Speedy was talking about me at seniors night one of the things he said was that a lot of my past is a mystery. I'm not sure if that's true, because I'm pretty sure I talk too much, but I thought I'd take this week to explain a bit about how I'm 25 and still playing university ball, and how I ended up at UNB. I find self-reflection tedious and a little uncomfortable but I have a nine hour bus ride so what the heck.
I played high school ball at Handsworth Secondary, a powerhouse basketball school that routinely produces NCAA and CIS athletes. At the end of my grade 11 season we had a team meeting and my coach announced that he didn't want to take more than 6 seniors the next year (so that the year after he wouldn't have a weakened team having just graduated too many girls). I counted around the room and knew I wasn't in the top six. I figured I wouldn't make the cut. I made the decision then not to practice or tryout in my grade 12 year.
I did other things that year. I helped coach the grade 8 and grade 9 teams. I was in my school play. I expanded my horizons and did things that I enjoyed. The girls came fourth in the province that year. The boys won. Led by Scott Leigh, Quinn Keast, and Rob Sacre, the boys cruised to their first championship in school history. Three months later, on the night of our graduation, Quinn was killed in a traffic accident. All of our lives changed that night. I didn't know him well but our families were, and still are, close.
It was a wakeup call I wasn't ready for and I chose to go to a school only a few hours away from home. I still wasn't playing basketball, but I saw the team around campus. They had what I had always wanted but was too scared to try to achieve. The summer after my first year of university I was working at a basketball camp in Alberta when a conversation with a fellow coach changed my perspective on everything. To make a long story short she told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. She encouraged me and inspired me to follow my dream. I went back to school in September determined to play basketball again. I knew I wasn't ready for that year, but I trained for six months and then started emailing coaches.
I found out that a brand new university had opened in Squamish, a town equidistant between Vancouver and Whistler. The school was private, and academically rigorous, but small enough that they were competing in the PacWest, the BC conference of the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association. A school with a great reputation but a level of basketball I could handle? It was a dream come true. I emailed the coach, set up a tryout, applied, was accepted, received my scholarship offer, transferred some credits and before I knew it I was enrolled and beginning classes at Quest University.
When it came time to choose a jersey number the choice was simple. Thirteen. The same jersey number that Quinn Keast wore. The same number worn in solidarity by a dozen athletes from my high school class who were playing various sports across North America. It was a number I associated with relentless blue collar work ethic, both Quinn's and my own. It was a number that reminded me of where I came from, and the people I share my past with. A number that symbolized integrity, unselfishness, kindness, and unwavering passion.
I played at Quest for three years before I graduated with the inaugural class and a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences. My three years there were incredible. I was in love with school and basketball. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated, except that I wanted to be a student athlete for as long as my eligibility would allow it. I explored a bunch of options, but my decision was made when I was accepted to the MPhil - Policy Studies program at UNB.
As the oldest rookie in my first year at UNB I got first dibs of whatever numbers were left. As fate would have it, someone switched that year and 13 was free. I couldn't imagine wearing anything else. Years later, and on the other side of the country, the number is still a reflection of everything I value about the game, and aspire to be.
The number has become part of my identity; as much my name as the one on my drivers licence. I turn my head if a ref says it, and I notice it on street signs, house numbers, and digital clocks. I feel possessive of it but connected to anyone else who wears it. This is my last year wearing it. Next year when someone else puts that jersey on it won't be mine anymore. Maybe it will mean something to them, or maybe they'll get stuck with it when it's the last one left and no one wants it. I hope somehow that whoever gets it knows what it meant to me, and how hard it is to let go. Because for me it has always been more than a number. It's part of who I am.