ON THE COURT, OFF THE STREETS: Teams wanted for free basketball tourney

SURREY — As a police officer, Surrey RCMP Sgt. Jet Sunner is all too familiar with the allure of gangs in B.C. While gang life is sometimes glorified in film and television – with depictions of fast cars and easy money – Sunner explains to youth that being involved with gangs is not how Hollywood portrays it.

That’s why he founded Team Izzat, a non-profit outreach organization that has hosted its free Three-on-Three Basketball Classic over the last 11 years to provide youth with something positive to do. The group has also run numerous events over the years, including a youth forum, an awards dinner and mentorship programs.

"It means respect and honour in several South Asian languages, including Punjabi and Hindi," said Sunner of the word "Izzat."

"I’ve always liked working with kids and I’ve always enjoyed basketball and sports, so it was an easy thing for us to do."

Started in 2004, Team Izzat was originally focused on the Lower Mainland’s South Asian youth population, which seemed to be most drawn to the lifestyle at the time.

"There was a lot of negative stereotyping, some negative media coverage with what was happening with the gangs and drugs in the Lower Mainland," said Sunner. "Myself, being South Asian, it upset us, so I got together with a bunch of police officers to do something about this.

However, Sunner soon realized the temptation of gang life spread beyond specific demographics and municipal boundaries.

"All this type of stuff, the drugs and gangs, it’s across every community," he said. "I’ve worked in North Van, Richmond, Surrey, and there are the same issues everywhere."

With $30,000 from TD Canada Trust, Sunner has run the Team Izzat tournament for more than a decade – and still has enough funding to keep it going year after year. He uses the tournament not only to engage youth, but to create volunteer opportunities for high school and university students, and give low-income families a place for their teens to play competitive basketball.

The tournament is also a place for kids who may not have made the basketball team at their school.

"I coached basketball in Whalley for four years and the hardest thing was to cut these kids. You’d have 30 kids trying out and you could only keep 15."

The tournament is set for Saturday, April 11 at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta and features two boys competitions (one Grades 7 to 9, the other 10 to 12), one girls’ competition (Grades 7-10) and a three-point shootout for participants 18 and under. Teams must have a minimum of three players and a maximum of five. Free T-shirts, pizza and trophies will be distributed at the event.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m. For registration information, check Teamizzat.com or email jssunner@telus.net. The deadline to register is Sunday, April 5.