london -- competitive sportsare supposed to be about bridging the racial divide.Certainly, it's Basketball Ontario's lofty goal to "provide a sport environment which promotes mutual respect, understanding and the principles of fair play."
But outside the painted lines of the court, the vagaries of race and black-white relations have a way of impinging on dreamland.
Can we all just get along long enough to play a kids' game? Not in this neck of southern Ontario.
I'm here with the Scarborough Blues, a multi-hued contingent of 14-and-under blacks, whites, Asians and many mixes in between, a colourful crew compared to the more homogeneous teams from St. Catharines, Welland and parts beyond.
The squad, here vying for the Basketball Ontario championship, prove no match early on for the competition, losing their first two games. But they rise sweetly to win the third, and by a quirk of mathematics sneak into the playoff round.
Bliss abounds, but it's short-lived. Coach Maurice, sad-sacked, gathers the team. It's not the usual pre-game pep talk.
For those who don't already know, the coach brings to their attention the fact that volunteer workers at the concession stand have been rallying to the cry, "Let's not let those niggers win."
The kids seem to take it all in stride, but some parents wonder if giving them this kind of explicit rundown is appropriate.
Another surprise awaits the Blues upon their return to Monsignor Buyere, one of several tournament sites -- and of the previous night's hate rhyme.
There, just outside the gym doors, the scoreboard tracking all the game results has been defaced.
Something had been written beside "Scarborough" -- the possibilities too offensive to mention -- and got cut out by organizers to mitigate the damage. All that remains is "rough." It's enough to make a hopeful local among the Blues contingent, here to see her mixed-race grandchild play, cry -- and surely it does.
While the players suit up, parents take photos of the board and speak of writing letters. Coach Maurice prepares to file a formal complaint of his own with the powers that be.
The site convenor, Sue, is visibly rattled: "I'm devastated and embarrassed. I was the last one to leave last night, and that wasn't there. I have no idea how this could have happened."
Basketball Ontario officials are notified. Sue, standing at centre court, offers a rather officious-sounding apology about "vandalism to the main scoreboard."
What a serious drag. There had been a whiff of something not quite right in the air from the moment our ragtag bunch arrived. Now it's official.
Related or not, the turn of events serves to fuel theories about the specious officiating and the oft-erroneous scores displayed on the scoreboard.
In several games, the Blues' scores are added to the other team's tally and never corrected. In another game, fouls by either team are racked up against the Blues alone.
Blues boosters who dare to complain are belittled by one ref who saunters all the way to the sideline to bellow that the scoreboard "means nothing." And "If you have any questions, just ask." Huh?
To make matters worse, there isn't much comfort back at the inn, where use of the lobby washrooms isn't being extended to all guests.
Coach Maurice's wife, who, as he deadpans, "isn't even full black," has been told there isn't a can down there at all. No problem. The door does say "staff." But Coach -- in black dick mode after seeing the red carpet to the pisser rolled out for a white gentleman in a hurry to void his bladder -- is given the same line when he gives it a whirl.
This makes me wonder about the pimple-faced slop jockey at Burger King a day earlier who, upon being asked for a soda refill by one of the Blues players, snipes: "I don't know where you come from, but we don't do that here!" Mere impoliteness?
But back to the point of all this: the well-drilled and very deserving St. Catharines Rebels take the championship.
The 12th-seeded Blues finish fourth, and are last spotted wearily devouring burgers at a Wendy's off the 401, safely outside the London city limits.