The Filipino Canadian Basketball League Yukon (FCBLY) held their annual kickoff weekend on Saturday, November 17 and the highly anticipated event filled F.H. Collins gym for the weekend. The FCBLY president, Joselito Tobias, has been involved in the league for seven years and has seen the evolution of the league into the sport of choice for Filipinos in Whitehorse.

“It started as just a game in the Christ the King Elementary gym in the mid 2000s,” Tobias explained. “It used to be like streetball.”

The league established itself as a formal basketball league, with proper basketball rules, in 2009, with house rules around selecting teams and the league structure.

The winter league has grown from these humble beginnings to now boast seven teams in the 35-and-under category, and five teams in the 35-plus category, as well as women’s teams competing. It also has a summer league, which Tobias notes is organized by other volunteers. This high level of participation has turned the league into an important part of the Yukon’s basketball scene and has made it a league for everyone, not just Filipinos.

That expansion has been driven in part by the younger players integrating into the Yukon basketball scene. Basketball is a big sport in the Philippines, and Tobias notes that they don’t really know much about snow or ice to be ready for other winter sports in the Yukon, like skating or skiing. Filipino athletes are now becoming part of the Yukon rep basketball teams for major competitions, high school and travelling. “You can tell the kids who are on the high school teams,” Tobias said. “They are a step above.”

“It used to be the Pinoy-only basketball,” Tobias said. “But we decided to be more inclusive. In the summer league, there’s lots of non-Filipinos.”

The league has attracted business sponsors, every year, that help with costs for jerseys and operating. Many have been long-time supporters of the league. It helps keep the registrations affordable for participants.

The opening events are very well-attended by the Filipino community. During the championships, each year, the league makes a a big event out of it, with a parade of teams, sportsmanship awards, the Filipino and Canadian national anthems, and often dignitaries from Whitehorse.

“Opening events and championships are always well-attended,” Tobias said. “Usually lots of reIatives of the teams. It depends on [the] people working, but fans of teams show up.”

A team’s fan base is often dependent on how many relatives are in town. “Sometimes there are only a few relatives here, on one of the teams, and you can really tell,” he laughed.

The league serves as a social outlet for individuals who may feel isolated from home in the territory. It is an affordable way to get out and socialize and meet new people in a different place. “There are Filipinos without family and it gets them out,” Tobias explained.

The league plans to continue to grow, including development of more Filipino refs, which Tobias noted they need to do.

The FCBLY plays on Saturdays and Sundays at F.H. Collins. They can be contacted via their Facebook page, Filipino-Canadian Basketball.