The creation of a basketball team in 2016 has set the stage for another group of girls in Colchester County this year.

Already coaching the Cobequid Educational Centre junior varsity team, Dave MacNeil, Katie Titus and Megan Burgess decided to form another team – the Hubtown Heat – following the school basketball season in 2016.

The idea was to prolong the basketball season for girls under the age of 16 wanting to play past the school season, which runs from October to February. It was also a chance for girls who didn’t play school sports to shoot some hoops.

“We made it very clear last year this wasn’t a school team,” said MacNeil. “We held tryouts and selected the team. In the end, it gave the girls a few extra months to play basketball. We even went to provincials last year and it went really well.”

This year the threat of a teacher’s strike and a subsequent work-to-rule order shut down the season just as quickly as it started. But out of the ashes of the cancelled school season came opportunity for the Truro Mazda Hubtown Heat.

Because of age restrictions, many of the returning players couldn’t play for an under-16 team so the coaching staff made the decision to go in with an under-18 team. They also opened tryouts up to North Colchester High and CEC. In the end, a whole new group of players joined four returning players from last year’s under-16 team. It operated under the Colchester Basketball Association.

“It was unfortunate the school season was cancelled but it gave us a chance to start things up early with the other team,” said MacNeil. “The coaching staff is big believers in promoting positive self-esteem, confidence and teaching life skills. That includes the development of friendships that last and through sports teams, they get that. Once we found out the school season had in fact been cancelled, we started looking at the possibility of getting something going sooner. We now have girls coming from as far away as Tatamagouche.”

The news was great for players like Katelyn Stuart. She is a point guard for the Hubtown Heat.

Stuart was disappointed when the school season was officially cancelled but admits most players could see the writing on the wall. While it’s not necessarily the same, the Grade 10 student at CEC is excited she gets to play a sport she thoroughly enjoys.

“We were hopeful we might still have a school season,” said Stuart. “It didn’t work out. We didn’t really talk about work-to-rule because regardless of what we said, it was the situation we were looking at. We just wanted to stay active and have some fun. It was pretty exciting to hear things would be starting early with the other team. Most of us couldn’t wait to get our uniforms.”

The group practises Monday and Friday at Truro Elementary School. They’ve already played a number of games this season which includes several tournament entries.

But before they entered into competition, they had to look the part. Enter Ben Smith, the new owner of Truro Mazda. Smith stepped up and purchased hoodies for the team.

“We have a history of supporting the community whether it’s our dealership in Moncton or here,” said Smith. “We learned about the work-to-rule issue and how it was impacting the sporting season for students. The team was looking for a sponsor and knowing they had already been through quite a bit this year, we saw it as a great fit.”

Members of the Hubtown Heat gathered at Truro Mazda earlier this year where they were presented with their hoodies.

“I come from a large family. We all played organized sports growing up so it gives me an appreciation for all of the costs that exist and just how much it takes to pull things together,” Smith said. “The team was definitely exited and we were happy to play a role in all of this for them.”

Complete with hoodies, the Hubtown Heat secured a spot in the Bedford Classic, one of the largest basketball tournaments in the country. Held March 1-5, it welcomes more than 1,650 players representing 165 teams on an annual basis.

That didn’t intimidate the team who walked out with a bronze medal. The Heat opened the tournament with a 49-39 loss to the Sackville (New Brunswick) Titans, the eventual tournament champions. They followed that game up with a 67-22 victory over the Pictou County Lightning.

The Cape Breton Magic dumped the Heat 76-58 in the third game before bouncing back with a 63-36 win over Bedford. In the bronze medal game, the Heat defeated the Lightning for a second time by a score of 74-45. Brooke Brown of the Heat was named tournament all-star.

The girls followed that up with another bronze medal at provincials, hosted in Springhill March 31 to April 2.

“It has been a great season, the girls have worked very hard and it has been great to see them develop friendships with each other both on and off the court,” said MacNeil, following provincials. “It has been a lot of fun.”