Not all sports played on the New Sudbury campus of Cambrian College are of the varsity variety. In fact, not all sports even necessarily involve club teams or intramural groups.
The Cambrian Men's Basketball League owns a place in the college lore than can rival pretty much any of the official Golden Shield representatives, with the loop offered, in some way, shape or form, for the better part of the past four decades.
Clearly, some things have changed, but not so much with the man in charge of the administrative details of the now nearly year-round offering. "We used to just run a winter league, from January to April," noted Rob McCann, who now has roughly 25 years at the helm of the Cambrian tradition, all while acknowledging that the league pre-dated his arrival by another ten years or so.
"The difference now is that we run three seasons. We run a fall league and a summer league as well, just because of the popularity of the sport. We just roll from one season right into the next."
Whether by luck or by design, McCann is also thankful for another evolution of the group. "I think guys seem to take care of themselves better," he said. "It seemed that before, we would have blown knees and torn achilles and stuff all the time. We've had no serious injuries in three to four years, nothing series, knock on wood."
That is most encouraging for a team such as the Northern Nissan crew under the stewardship of Cambrian basketball alumnus Stewart Marr. "We're maybe a little bit older than some of the other guys (in the league)," noted the member of the 2005-2007 Shield teams, now comfortably into his thirties.
"Your skill-set certainly changes and you learn how to slow it down. When you're running all over the court after these young guys, sometimes your knees hurt a little more the next day." With a lineup that features the likes of Mitchell Nyssen, Brett Walter, Kevin McCoshen, Dakota Campbell and Derrick Rantala, the Nissan crew provides a stark reminder that the high-school glory days of the 30+ crowd are a little further removed than this writer would like to believe.
"Some guys have come and gone, but the core of this team has been the same for the past five to six years now," said Marr. "We like to keep our squad pretty tight. We really don't have one player who stands out. You come in and you're going to play half the game. We're here to win, but we're also here to have fun."
"It's nice to have a team that shares the ball."
It's equally nice to enjoy a setting where more experienced athletes can settle into that wonderful balance between still retaining an element of that competitive instinct that drove them throughout their youth, mixed alongside the realities that as life changes, so too do the priorities.
"It's been a while since some of these guys have played with refs and a scorer's table - and with rules," said Marr. "It's nice to get a chance to get up and down the court, with two refs and a scoreboard. In the summer, we had some high school kids (in the league), and keeping up with them was difficult."
"But most of those kids are all in school now, so there's more oldtimers out here."
I suppose that depends on one's definition of "oldtimer".
Stuck right in the middle of the pack, with three of the league's seven teams sporting identical records of 3-3, the Reload squad is more of a mix of 20 to 25 year olds, recording a big first round playoff win on Wednesday, 74-69 over First Round.
"A bunch of us know each other and then we picked up some other guys," explained team rep Mohammad Swaray, a native of the GTA who moved north originally to compete in OCAA basketball (before the Cambrian program was disbanded), but has kept his interest in the sport alive via the occasional pick-up game and the existence of this group.
"We want to come out here and have fun," he said. "We're learning as we go. Every single game is a learning curve. A lot of us had played pick-up ball together, but we don't practice, so at first, we just tried to find out who could shoot, who could dribble - try and find out our tendencies."
And while he may not be as far removed from his teenage playing days as Stewart Marr and his co-horts, Swaray still acknowledges a morphing of his game. "When I was playing high school, it was really fast, getting up and down the court, getting a lot of open shots," he said. "Now, the guys are really smart, they really slow the game down."
"They make every possession count."
To be sure, this is not the place you want to take your first crack at the sport of basketball.
"Everybody here is pretty talented," said Swaray. "You have some age differences, with some of the older guys and younger guys like us, but everybody can play."
And there is a benefit in not over-doing it.
"The main thing for these guys is that we have to go back to school, we have to go back to work, we have to do other things," said Swaray. "But because the league is just once a week, everybody kind of rests up, so that when it's time to play, they give it their all."